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May 2022
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Know the BSP-Mayawati announces 9 LS candidates for Bihar -Mayawati removes Delhi unit BSP president-Jagatheesan — Over the last week this race has been transformed.
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Bahujan Samaj Party
Party chairperson Mayawati Kumari
General Secretary Satish Chandra Mishra
Leader in Lok Sabha Rajesh Verma
Leader in Rajya Sabha Satish Chandra Mishra
Founded 1984
Headquarters 12, Gurudwara Rakabganj Road,
New Delhi - 110001
Seats in Lok Sabha 17
Seats in Rajya Sabha 6
Political ideology Original Inhabitants of Jambudvipa, that is the Great Prabuddha Bharath Socialism
Publications Adil Jafri, Mayayug
See also the politics of India series

The Bahujan Samaj Party (Hindi: बहुजन समाज पार्टी) is a national political party in India with socialist leanings. It was formed to chiefly represent Bahujans(OBC, SC, ST & Minorities), who are thought by some to be at the bottom of the Indian caste system, and claims to be inspired by the philosophy of Ambedkar. It wants to protect only the Dalit section of India, a clear caste based political party. The BSP was founded by the high-profile charismatic leader Kanshi Ram in 1984. The party’s political symbol is an elephant. In the 13th Lok Sabha (1999-2004) it had 14 (out of 545) members and currently in the 14th Lok Sabha has 17. The party has its main base in Uttar Pradesh of Indian state, in UP the BSP has formed government several times. Mayawati is the President of the party and has been so for many years. The deep and mutual hostility between the BSP and the Samajwadi Party – the other leading state party in Uttar Pradesh, whose support is mainly obtained from the OBC has led the BSP into allying itself many times with its erstwhile ideological enemies, the BJP. On 23 June 2008, the party withdrew support of a Congress led alliance called the United Progressive UPA in the Indian Government.[1]

On 11 May 2007 the Uttar Pradesh state assembly election
results made BSP the first single majority party since 1991. After 15
years of hung assembly, BSP won a clear majority in India’s most
populated state. The BSP President Mayawati Kumari began as the new
Chief Minister of UP for the fourth term. She took oath of chief
minister along with 50 ministers (cabinet and state rank) on 13 May 2007 at Rajbhawan in the state capital Lucknow.

Mayawati announces 9 LS candidates for Bihar

Bahujan Samajwadi Party supremo Mayawati and Uttar Chief Minister on Saturday announced names of nine candidates from Bihar for the next Lok Sabha elections.

The names were announced at a meeting between Mayawati and the party’s Bihar unit leaders, a BSP release said in Patna.

The nine candidates are Masihuddin (Nawada), Dev Kishore Rai
(Nalanda), Nilofur Nahid (Banka), Bindeshwar Ram (Samastipur), Premkant
Jha (Madhubani), Indal Singh Naveen (Sitamarhi), Vishwambhar Nath Giri
(Motihari), Paras Nath Pathak (Siwan) and Harendra Kumar Patel

The candidates were also appointed coordinators of the party in
their respective parliamentary constituencies, the release signed by
state BSP secretary Gautam Prasd Kharwar, said.

BSP general secretary in-charge of Bihar
Gandhi Azad, MP, state BSP president Baban Singh Kushwaha,
vice-president Sanjay Kumar Mandal, general secretary Rajesh Tyagi and
former Uttar Pradesh minister Rajendra Kumar were present.

Mayawati removes Delhi unit BSP president

NEW DELHI: Cracking the whip on “indisciplined” party workers, BSP
chief Mayawati on Saturday struck out 12 names from the list of
candidates for the Delhi Assembly elections besides removing the
capital’s state unit president.

Delhi unit president Jageram
Bhati was removed from the post while around 10-12 candidates, whose
names were announced for contesting the Assembly polls, were replaced
by new faces, party sources said.

The new president of the Delhi unit is Braham Singh Bidhuri.

decision was announced by Mayawati at a closed door meeting of party
leaders, councillors and the party’s candidates for the assembly
elections here. The meeting lasted for about two-and-half hours.

Sources said the action was taken against these people for indulging in anti-party activities.

replacement of the candidates and the party unit president was a
disciplinary action taken by the party chief. We were asked to put in
all our efforts to win seats for the party in the capital,” a party
leader said.

When contacted, Bhati confirmed that he has been removed from the post but refused to give reasons for the decision.

is an internal matter of the party. Whatever responsibility is bestowed
to me, I will accept it. I have no complaints. We will ensure that
party wins enough seats in the capital,” he said.

Jagatheesan –

Over the last week this race has been transformed.

Barack named Joe Biden as his running mate, and they accepted the Democratic nomination at our historic open convention in Denver.

Our team is complete, and our movement is growing rapidly.
But now we are facing our first major challenge together.

The August financial reporting deadline is tomorrow at midnight, and we
have an opportunity to show that a campaign funded by ordinary people
can go toe-to-toe with the Washington lobbyists and special interests
lined up behind
John McCain and the Republican Party.

Make a donation of $5 or more before midnight tomorrow, and you’ll receive a first edition Obama-Biden bumper sticker.

Fiscal Image

Plan for Restoring Fiscal Discipline

cost of our debt is one of the fastest growing expenses in the federal
budget. This rising debt is a hidden domestic enemy, robbing our cities
and states of critical investments in infrastructure like bridges,
ports, and levees; robbing our families and our children of critical
investments in education and health care reform; robbing our seniors of
the retirement and health security they have counted on. . . . If
Washington were serious about honest tax relief in this country, we’d
see an effort to reduce our national debt by returning to responsible
fiscal policies.”

— Barack Obama, Speech in the U.S. Senate, March 13, 2006

At a Glance

Speak your mind and help set the policies that will guide this campaign and change the country.

Watch Videos

The Problem

Increasing Debt: Under President Bush, the federal debt has increased from $5.7 trillion to $8.8 trillion, an increase of more than 50 percent.

Irresponsible Tax Cuts:
President Bush’s policies of giving tax breaks for the wealthy will
cost the nation over $2.3 trillion by the time they expire in 2009.

Barack Obama’s Plan

Restore Fiscal Discipline to Washington

Make the Tax System More Fair and Efficient

Barack Obama’s Record

The Lotus-like Lay-follower

Thus spoke the Buddha:

A lay-follower (upasaka) who has five qualities is a jewel of
lay-follower, is like a lily, like a lotus. What are these five
qualities? He has faith; he is virtuous; he is not superstitious; he
believes in action
(kamma) and not in luck or omen; he does not seek outside (of the Order) for those worthy of support and does not attend there first.

— AN 5.175

Ten Virtues of the Lay-follower

These ten, great King, are the virtues of the lay-follower:

He shares the joys and sorrows of the Order;1

He places the Dhamma first;2

He enjoys giving according to his ability;

If he sees a decline in the Dispensation of the Teaching of the Buddha, he strives for its strong growth;

He has right views, disregarding belief in superstitions and omens;
he will not accept any other teacher, not even for the sake of his life;

He guards his deeds and words;

He loves and cherishes peace and concord;

He is not envious or jealous;

He does not live a Buddhist life by way of deception or hypocrisy;

He has gone for refuge to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha.

— Milindapañha, Ch. IV


1. That is, he is concerned about the welfare of the monastic community, with
which he is connected.

2. That is, he places the Dhamma before self and worldly considerations; this
refers to the three dominant influences (adhipateyya), Dhamma being the
third, after atta (self) and loka (world); see AN 3.40.

Principles of Lay Buddhism [go up]
by R. Bogoda


Buddhism should not be thought to be a teaching for monks only, as
it is sometimes wrongly conceived. In a large number of his discourses,
the Buddha has given practical guidance for the lay life and sound
advice to cope with life’s difficulties. Many of our problems and
difficulties for which some people blame circumstances and chance, are,
if correctly viewed, the result of ignorance or negligence. They could
be well avoided or overcome by knowledge and diligence yet of course,
worldly happiness and security are never perfect; they are always a
matter of degree, for in the fleeting there is nothing truly firm.

The central problem of a lay Buddhist is how to combine personal
progress in worldly matters with moral principles. He strives to
achieve this by building his life on the foundation of the Fourth Noble
Truth, the Noble Eightfold Path, and to shape his activities in
accordance with it. The first step of this Path is Right Understanding;
by developing a life style in accordance with it, the other factors of
the Path result from it, namely: Right Thoughts, Right Speech, Right
Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right
Concentration. The eight steps of the Path fall into the three
divisions of Wisdom (the first two), Morality (the second three), and
Mental Culture (the last three). The order of development is, however,
Morality (sila), Mental Culture (samadhi), and Wisdom (pañña). The Path outlines the practice of Buddhism, leading to its ultimate goal — Nibbana.

As a householder, the Buddhist is particularly concerned with
Morality. Right Understanding, however, is the prerequisite. Right
Effort is the training of the will, and Right Mindfulness, the
all-round helper. Progress to a lay Buddhist means the development of
the whole man in society. It is, therefore, an advance on many fronts —
the economic, the moral, and the spiritual, the first not as an end in
itself but as a means to an end: the full flowing of the human being in
the onward-carrying stream of Buddhist ideas and ideals.

A Practical Guide

Right Understanding is the beginning and the end of Buddhism,
without which one’s vision is dimmed and the way is lost, all effort
misguided and misdirected. Right Understanding, in the context of the
layman’s Dhamma, provides a sound philosophy of life.

Right Understanding, the first step of the Path, is seeing life as
it really is: the objective understanding of the nature of things as it
truly is (yatha bhuta ñana dassana). All things that have arisen, including the so-called being, are nothing but incessant change (anicca), therefore unsatisfactory (dukkha)
and productive of suffering. It follows then that what is both
impermanent and pain-laden cannot conceal within it anything that is
solid, substantial, or unchanging — an eternal soul or an immanent
abiding principle (anatta).

Right Understanding implies further a knowledge of the working of
kamma — the moral law of cause and effect. We reap what we sow, in
proportion to the sowing. Good begets good and evil, evil. Kamma
operates objectively, and the results show themselves here or in the
hereafter. That is to say, consequences follow causes whether one
believes in kamma or not, even as a fall from a height will result in
injury or even death, irrespective of one’s personal belief or
disbelief in the force of gravity.

Kamma is intentional or volitional action; vipaka is the
fruit or result, and every action affects character for good or bad. We
know that actions consciously performed again and again tend to become
unconscious or automatic habits. They, in turn, whether good or bad,
become second nature. They more or less shape or mold the character of
a person. Likewise, the unconscious or latent tendencies in us,
including inborn human instincts, are merely the results of actions
done repeatedly in innumerable past lives extending far beyond
childhood and the formative years of the present life. Kamma includes
both past and present action. It is neither fate nor predestination.

A Buddhist views life in terms of cause and effect, his own birth
included. Existence (life) was not thrust on him by an unseen Deity to
whose will he must blindly bend nor by parents, for the mere fusing of
two cells from mother and father does not by itself produce life. It
was of his own causing of his own choice: the kammic energy generated
from the past birth produced life — made real the potential, in the
appropriate sperm and ovum of his human parents at the moment of
conception, endowing the new life with initial consciousness (patisandhi viññana), using the mechanism of heredity, duly modified, if necessary.

The arising of a being here then means the passing away of another
elsewhere. This changing personality that constitutes “me” — the
physical and mental make-up that is “I” — the very environment into
which I was born, in which I acted and reacted is more of my own doing,
of my own choice, of my own kamma, of one’s past actions and thoughts.
It is just, it is fair, it is right; what is, is the sum of what was;
effects exactly balance causes. One gets precisely what one deserves,
even as the sum of two plus two is four, never more nor less.

Enough of the past that is dead. What remains is the ever-present now,
not even the future that’s still unborn. The past is dead, yet
influences the present, but does not determine it. The past and the
present, in turn, influence the future that is yet to be. Only the
present is real. The responsibility of using the present for good or
bad lies with each individual. And the future, still unborn, is one’s
to shape. The so-called being which, in fact, is merely a conflux of
mind and matter, is, therefore, born of, supported by, and heir to, his

One is driven to produce kamma by tanha or desire which itself is threefold. Where there is tanha, there is ignorance (avijja) — blindness to the real nature of life; and where there is ignorance, there is tanha or craving. They coexist, just as the heat and light of a flame are inseparable. And the beginning of ignorance (avijja) cannot be known.

Because of this lack of understanding of things as they truly are,
we, often unmindful of the rights of others, desire for, grasp at,
cling to, the wrong sorts of things: the pleasures that money can buy,
power over others, fame and name, wishing to go on living forever. We
hope that pleasures will be permanent, satisfying and solid, but find
them to be passing, unsatisfying, and empty — as hollow as a bamboo
when split. The result is frustration and disappointment, dis-ease and
an irritating sense of inadequacy and insufficiency. If we don’t get
all our wishes, we react with hate or take shelter in a world of
delusive unreality or phantasy.

To remedy this, we must correct our understanding and thinking, and
see in our own experiences, so near to us, things as they truly are,
and first reduce, and finally remove all shades of craving or desire
that are the causes of this restlessness and discontent. This is not
easy, but when one does so by treading the noble Eightfold path, one
reaches a state of perfection and calm (Nibbana) thereby bringing to an
end the pain-laden cycle of birth and death.

As long as there is desire, birth leads to death, and death to
birth, even as an exit is also an entrance. Each subsequent individual
born is not the same as the preceding one, nor is it entirely different
(naca so naca añño) but only a continuity; that is to say, each
succeeding birth depends upon, or emerges from, the preceding one. And
both, birth and death, are but the two sides of the same coin, life.
The opposite of life is not death, as some fondly believe, but rest —
the rest and peace of Nibbana, in contrast to the restlessness and
turmoil that is life.

Kamma, as we have seen, is volitional action. It implies making choices or decisions between, broadly speaking, skillful (kusala) and unskillful (akusala)
actions. The former are rooted in generosity, loving-kindness, and
wisdom leading to happiness and progress, and therefore, to be
cultivated again and again in one’s life. The good actions are
Generosity, Morality, Meditation, Reverence, Service, Transference of
merit, Rejoicing in other’s good actions, Hearing the Doctrine,
Expounding the Doctrine, and Straightening one’s views. The unskilled
actions are rooted in greed, hate and delusion, leading to pain, grief
and decline, and therefore, to be avoided. There are ten such actions:
killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, slandering, harsh speech,
gossip, covetousness, ill-will and false views. This division of
actions is a natural outcome of the Universal Law of Kamma; Kamma is
one of the fixed orders of existence.

Life is like a ladder. The human being occupies the middle steps.
Above are the celestial worlds of bliss; below, the woeful states of
sorrow. With every choice, one moves upward or downward, ascends or
descends, for each one is evolved according to one’s own actions.
Beings are not only owners of kamma but also their heirs. Actions
fashion not only one’s fortune, how one shall be born, dividing beings
into inferior or superior, in health, wealth, wisdom, and the like, but
also shapes one’s future, where one shall be born, whether in the
human, heavenly or animal world. In short, one can progress or regress
from the human state.

A proper understanding of the Buddhist doctrine of kamma and rebirth
can, therefore, improve and elevate the character of a person. Buddhism
teaches, above all, moral responsibility — to be mindful of one’s
actions, because of the inevitability of action being followed by
reaction. One therefore strives one’s best to avoid evil and to do good
for one’s own welfare as well as for the benefit of others. This
conduct leads to peace within and without. It promotes soberness of
mind and habit together with self-respect and self-reliance. Finally,
this teaching fosters in us a feeling of all-embracing kindness and
tolerance toward all living beings and keeps us away from cruelty,
hate, and conflict.

Man, as a whole, has not made a steady progress toward moral and
spiritual perfection. But the individual can pursue the ideal of a
perfect man — the Arahant — free from greed, hate, and delusion by
treading the Noble Eightfold Path comprising Sublime Conduct, Mental
Culture and Intuitive Insight (or wisdom). It is the perfection of
human living by perfecting one’s understanding and purifying one’s
mind. It is to know the Truth, do the Truth and become the Truth. Such a one has gone beyond the force of all rebirth-producing kamma, skillful and unskillful. He has attained the highest — Nibbana.

As the Blessed One teaches with incomparable beauty:

Sabba papassa akaranam,kusalassa upasampadasacittapariyodapanam:etam Buddhanusasanam
To avoid evil,To do good,To purify the mind,This is the advice of all the Buddhas.

This, in brief and simple outline, is the Teaching of the Buddha as
it affects the householder’s life. It is at once an ideal and a method.
As an ideal, it aims at the evolution of a perfect Man — synonymous
with the attainment of Nibbana — in this very life itself, by one’s own
efforts. As a method, it teaches us that the ideal can become real only
by the systematic practice and development of the Noble Eightfold Path,
at the two levels — that of the monk and that of the layman. Each
develops according to his ability and each according to his needs
whereby man, using the instrument of mind, by his own endeavor comes to
know himself, train himself, and free himself from
the thralldom of base desire, the blindness of hate, and the mist of a
delusive self, to win the highest of all freedoms — freedom from error
and ignorance.

In this Noble Teaching, there is no intellectual error, based as it
is on reason and, in keeping with the finding of science, no moral
blindness; for its ethics are truly lofty, with a rational basis:
namely, evolution in terms of kamma.

That Buddhism is eminently practicable is clearly shown by the
example of the great Indian Emperor Asoka, when Buddhism became the
shaping ideal of the State, and Buddhist ideas and ideals were used to
build a just and righteous society, thus ushering in a period of great
prosperity: material, moral, and spiritual. It is the only true
solution to the manifold problems in the modern world. To this we must
now turn.

Social and Economic Aspects

Buddha was a rebel. He rebelled against the way of thought, and the way of life, of his age.

To the philosophical concept of life as dynamic change (anicca) of no being but becoming (bhava),
no thinker but thought, no doer but deed — he added its social
equivalent: the doctrine of social fluidity and equality based on
nobility of conduct. As the Buddha stated:

Not by birth is one an outcasteNot by birth is one a Brahman.By deeds is one an outcaste,By deeds is one a Brahman.

and again,

A birth no Brahman, nor non-Brahman makes;‘Tis life and doing that mold the Brahman true.Their lives mold farmers, tradesmen, merchants, serfs;Their lives mold robbers, soldiers, chaplains, kings.

What matters then is not the womb from which one came nor the
societal class into which one was born but the moral quality of one’s
actions. As a tree is judged by its fruit, so shall a man be judged by
his deeds.

In this way, the doors of the Deathless and of the unconditioned
freedom beyond, and of social freedom here on earth, were thrown open
to all, regardless of caste, color, or class. In his teaching all men
unite, lose identity, even as do the waters of the rivers that flow
into the sea. No caste, class, or race privileges existed among his lay
followers or in the Order of the Sangha that he founded — a fitting
complement to the doctrine of anatta.

For the Buddha, all men are one in that they belong to one species.
Social classes and castes are nothing but functional or occupational
groupings, neither fixed nor inevitable. They are divisions of society,
man-made, subject to change and resulting from social and historical
factors. A social doctrine based on the alleged superiority of any
caste, class, or race, and advocating to keep it dominant by the use of
force, must necessarily lead to the perpetuation of social tensions and
conflict, and will never bring about harmony and the fraternity of men.

The Buddha’s doctrine of equality does not, however, imply that all
men are alike physically or mentally. That would be identity. It does
mean that each one should be treated equally with human dignity, and
given an equal chance to develop the faculties latent in each, as all
are capable of moral and spiritual progress, and of human perfection,
in view of the common capacity and capability of humanity. Thus the
Buddha’s teaching of a classless society requires the progressive
refinement of man’s nature, as shown by his actions, and the
development of his character.

The Buddha was not only the first thinker in known history to teach
the doctrine of human equality, but also the first humanist who
attempted to abolish slavery, in which term is also included the
traffic in, and the sale of, females for commercial purposes. In fact,
this is a prohibited trade for his followers.

The character of a society depends on the beliefs and practices of
its people as well as on its economy. An economic system based on
Buddhist ethics and principles, therefore, seems the only alternative.
The true nature of man is that he is not only a thinking and feeling
creature but also a striving creature, with higher aspirations and
ideals. If he is aggressive and assertive, he is also cooperative and
creative. He is forever making not only things, but himself. And the
making of oneself by perfecting the art of living is the noblest of all
creative aspirations, yielding the highest happiness and satisfaction
in life.

Progress in the material side of life alone is not enough for human
happiness, as illustrated by today’s “affluent societies.” The pursuit
of material pleasures in the hope that by multiplying them they will
thereby become permanent is a profitless chase, akin to chasing one’s
shadow: the faster one runs, the faster it eludes. True happiness,
contentment, and harmony come from an emancipated mind. Any economic
system is therefore, unsatisfactory, if based on a wrong set of values
and attitudes, and will fail in the fulfillment of its promises.

The only effective remedy for the economic and social ills of the
modern world is a more rational and and balanced economic structure
based on Buddhist ideas and ideals. In a Buddhist economic system1
the people deliberately use the state power to maximize welfare, both
economic and social, from a given national income. The methods employed
are threefold: economic planning, a suitable fiscal policy, and a
comprehensive network of social services assuring to every member of
the community, as a right, and as a badge of citizenship and
fellowship, the essentials of civilized living, such as minimum
standards of economic security, health care, housing, and education,
without which a citizen cannot realize his humanity in full.

In such a system production, distribution, and values take a
different meaning in a new context. Economic activity will be pursued
not as an end in itself but a means to an end — the all-round
development of man himself. There should be a revision of values. A
person’s worth, for instance, ought not be measured in terms of what he
has but on what he is. In short, man or the majority of
men in society should be helped to see life in perspective. Knowledge
and discipline may transform a society into a workshop or a military
camp, but it is the cultivation of a proper sense of values that will
make it truly civilized. Perhaps this may be the clue to the paradox of
the Western civilization that knows how to go through space and sail
across the seas, but not how to live on earth in peace. It is true that
such a change of heart and system may, in the present context of the
world, take a long time to realize. But what else is the alternative?
It is futile to think that reform by revolution will remedy the ills of
the world.

In the opening stanza of the Dhammapada the Buddha declared the supremacy of mind over matter: “Mind precedes things, dominates them, creates them” (Mano pubbangamadhamma mano settha mano maya).

However, this must not be interpreted to mean that Buddhism is
against social and economic reform. It is far from it. Buddhism stands
for a society of equals, in which justice and ethical principles shall
supplant privilege and chaos. But reform must take place by peaceful
persuasion and education without resorting to violence; worthy aims
must be realized by worthy means even as democracy must be maintained
by the methods of democracy.

Buddhism concedes that the economic environment influences
character, but denies that it determines it. A person can use his free
will, within limits, and act according to his conscience irrespective
of the social structure to which he belongs. It all depends on mind and
its development.

Society does not stand still. Like any other conditioned phenomenon,
it changes constantly and Buddhism teaches us that we cannot change
society as something different from its members. Social progress is
their progress, social regress their regress. If the individual
perfects his life, thinks and acts clearly, lives in accordance with
the Dhamma and the moral law of kamma, to that extent will there be
social order and discipline. Initial improvements from within will
result in corresponding changes without. Social order and discipline
follow, not preceded, the state of mind of the individuals comprising
that society. Society reflects the character of its people; the better
the people, the better the society. Every society is a projection or
extension of the collective personality of its members.

But humanity in the mass can be influenced for good by the example
of a few really noble and selfless men with vision and wisdom, with
ideas and ideals to live for and to die for. They provide the guiding
star round which others, too timid to lead but strong enough to follow,
cluster around and become willing followers. It is these few who set
the standards for the many at the bottom, and their impact and
influence on the way of life and thought of the human race can be
tremendous. The message they bring carries with it the indelible stamp
of truth and is, therefore, never obsolete.

Most outstanding among the great teachers is the Buddha Gotama. It
is through his Teachings that all the Buddhist nations, including Sri
Lanka, were molded and into the fabric of national life were woven the
strands of his Teaching.

It is then the duty of every genuine Buddhist to help to make known,
far and wide, the Teaching of the Buddha in all its many aspects, and
thereby make possible tomorrow the seemingly impossible of today — a
new and just socio-economic order based on Buddhist ethics, principles,
and practices. Such a society will be both democratic and socialistic,
with liberty, equality, fraternity, and economic security for all, not
as ends in themselves but as means to an end — the full development of
man into a well-rounded, happy human being in the setting of the
Teaching of Gotama the Buddha, Guide Incomparable to a troubled world.

Buddhism and Daily Life

A follower of the Buddha learns to view life realistically, which
enables him to adjust to everything that comes his way. Buddhism tells
him the meaning and purpose of existence and his place in the scheme of
things. It suggests the lines of conduct, supported by cogent reasons,
by which he should live his daily life. It clarifies what his attitude
should be to specific matters like self, job, sex, and society. Thus it
assists him in the business of living, for to lead a full life four
fundamental adjustments have to be made. He must be happily adjusted to
himself and the world, his occupation, his family, and his fellow

(a) Himself and The World

A Buddhist tries to see things as they really are. He remembers the
instability of everything and understands the inherent danger in
expecting to find permanence in existence. In this way, he strives to
insulate himself from potential disappointments. So, a discerning lay
Buddhist is not unduly elated or upset by the eight worldly conditions
of gain and loss, honor and dishonor, praise and blame, pleasure and
pain. He does not expect too much from others, nor from life, and
recognizes that it is only human to have one’s share of life’s ups and

He looks at life’s events in terms of cause and effect, however
unpleasant or painful they may be. An understanding layman accepts
dukkha as the results of his own kamma — probably a past unskillful (akusala) action ripening in the present.

He sees the connection between craving and suffering and therefore
tries to reduce both the intensity and variety. As the Dhammapada

From craving springs grief, from craving springs fear,For him who is wholly free from craving, there is no grief — whence fear?

— Dhp 215

Therefore, he is mindful of a scale of values — knowing clearly what
is really important to him as a Buddhist layman, what is desirable but
not so important, and what is trivial. He tries to eliminate the
non-essential and learns to be content with the essential. Such a
person soon discovers that to need less is to live better and happier.
It is a mark of maturity. It is progress on the path to inner freedom.

One should wisely seek and carefully choose in one’s actions and
strive to maintain a Buddhist standard of conduct, whatever
disappointments life may bring. And when disappointments come, one
tries to look at them with some degree of detachment, standing, as it
were, apart from them. In this way, a person gains a feeling of inner
security and frees himself from fears, anxieties, and many other heavy
burdens. This attitude to life and the world brings courage and

How does a lay Buddhist view himself? In the Buddha Dhamma, the
human being is an impersonal combination of ever-changing mind and
matter. In the flux is found no unchanging soul or eternal principle.
The self or soul is then a piece of fiction invented by the human mind.
To believe in such an absurdity is to create another source of

One should therefore see oneself as one truly is — a conflux of mind and matter energized by tanha
or craving, containing immense possibilities for both good and evil,
neither overestimating nor underestimating one’s capacities and
capabilities. One must also take care to recognize one’s limitations
and not pretend that they do not exist. It is simply a matter of
accepting what one is, and deciding to make the most of oneself. With
this determination, one’s position in this world will be decided by
one’s efforts. And everyone has a place, however humble it may be, and
a contribution to make as well.

Seeing that no two are alike, physically or psychologically, in the
light of kamma, a wise person should, therefore, avoid comparing
himself with others. Such profitless comparison can only lead to
unnecessary sorrow and suffering. If he thinks that he is better than
others, he may become proud and conceited and develop a superiority
feeling — of an inflated “I.” If the person thinks he is worse than
others, he is liable to develop an inferiority feeling — of a deflated
“I,” and to withdraw from the realities and responsibilities of life.
If he considers that he is equal to others, there is likelihood of
stagnation and disinclination to further effort and progress.

So, instead of keeping pace with, or outdoing others, socially,
financially, and in other ways, the understanding layman proceeds to do
something more useful. He decides to take stock of himself, to know
himself, his true nature in all aspects, as a first step to improving
it: the secular (such as his physical, mental, emotional qualities),
the moral, and the spiritual, through careful self-examination and
observation, by past performance, and by the candid comments of sincere
friends. Seeing himself as a whole, he plans for life as a whole in the
context of the Noble Eightfold Path. Such a plan when drawn up will
include all important events of a normal layman’s life including
occupation, marriage, and old age. Lay happiness and security lies then
in finding out exactly what one can do and in actually doing it.

A plan like this brings order into an otherwise aimless and
meaningless life, prevents drift and indicates the right direction and
drive. A thoughtful lay Buddhist will not simply do what others do. He
can resist the pull of the crowd when necessary. He is ever mindful
both of ends pursued and the means employed. He does not merely go
through life aimlessly; he goes, knowing clearly where he wants to go,
with a purpose and a plan based on reality.

To be born as a human being is hard, but made easier in a Buddha Era
— that is, an age when his teachings are still remembered and
practiced. The more reason then why a lay Buddhist should consciously
direct his life for purposeful living with a right end, by right
endeavor, to a right plan; this is the quintessence of Buddha’s

(b) Earning a Living

Men work to satisfy the primary or basic urges of hunger, thirst,
and sex, as well a host of secondary wants and desires created by a
commercial civilization such as ours.

The Buddha’s teaching is a teaching of diligence and right effort or
exertion. The opposite of diligence is negligence — aimless drift,
sloth, and laziness which are hindrances to both material and moral
progress. It is the active man who lives purposefully, who blesses the
world with wealth and wisdom. So work is essential for happy living.
Life without work would be an eternal holiday, which is the hell of

A large part of our waking life is spent earning a living. So it is
easy to appreciate why we should be at least moderately happy in our
job. But choosing a suitable career, like choosing a marriage partner,
is one of the most important yet one of the most difficult tasks in

The economic aspect of a community profoundly affects its other
aspects. The Buddha says that society, as with all conditioned
phenomena, has no finality of form and therefore changes with the
passage of time. The mainsprings of social change are ideology and
economics — for men are driven to action by beliefs and desires. Some
systems emphasize the latter; the Buddha the former for an economic
structure can only influence but never determine man’s thought.

Man must live and the means of his livelihood are matters of his
greatest concern. A hungry man is an angry man. And a man poisoned by
discontent is hardly in a fit frame of mind to develop his moral and
spiritual life. The spirit may be willing but the flesh may prove to be
weak. Unemployment and economic insecurity lead to tension,
irritability, and loss of self-respect without which a healthy mental
life is impossible. And one of the essential needs of a man is to feel
he is wanted in the world.

Of human rights the right of work should, therefore, be assured to
all, as a pre-requisite for the good life. It is the duty of the state
to uphold justice, and provide for the material and spiritual welfare
of its subjects.

While Buddhism recognizes that bread is essential for existence, it
also stresses that man does not live by bread alone. This is not all.
How he earns and why he does it are equally relevant. He should not
gain a living by methods detrimental to the welfare of living beings — anakula ca kammanta,
“a peaceful occupation,” as the Discourse on Blessings (Maha-mangala
Sutta) has it. So the Buddha forbade five kinds of trade to a lay
Buddhist, and refraining from them constitutes Right Livelihood, the
seventh step of the Path. They are: trading in arms, human beings,
flesh (including the breeding of animals for slaughter), intoxicants
and harmful drugs, and poisons. These trades add to the already
existing suffering in the world.

Economic activity should also be regarded as a means to an end — the
end being the full development of man himself. Work should serve men,
not enslave him. He should not be so preoccupied with the business (or,
busy-ness, to be more accurate) of earning a living that he has no time
to live. While income and wealth through righteous means will bring
satisfaction and lay happiness, the mere accumulation of riches for
their own sake will only lead to unbridled acquisitiveness and
self-indulgence resulting later in physical and mental suffering. The
enjoyment of wealth implies not merely its use for one’s own happiness
but also the giving for the welfare of others as well.

The Buddha further says that the progress, prosperity, and happiness
of a lay person depends on hard and steady effort — rather
discouraging, no doubt, to many people who want something for nothing.
Efficiency in work, be it high or humble, makes a useful contribution
to the production of socially desirable goods and services. It gives
one’s work meaning and interest, besides enabling one to support
oneself and one’s family in comfort. Conservation and improvement of
one’s resources and talents, acquired or inherited, with balanced
living, living within one’s income, ensuring freedom from debt is a
sure indicator of right seeing or understanding. Lastly, a blameless
moral and spiritual life should be the aim of right livelihood.

Life is one and indivisible, and the working life a part of the
whole. The man who is unhappy at work is unhappy at home, too.
Unhappiness spreads. Likewise, business life is part of life. The
Dhamma of the Blessed One should therefore pervade and permeate one’s
entire life for only wealth rooted in righteous endeavor can yield true

(c) Bringing up a Family

In the Maha Mangala Sutta the Buddha teaches us that:

Mother and father well supporting,Wife and children duly cherishing,Types of work unconflicting,This, the Highest Blessing.

— Sn 2.4

The essentials of happy family life are then a partnership of two
parents with common aims, attitudes, and ideals who love, respect, and
trust each other; who love and understand their children, on whom they,
in turn, can depend for the same treatment and sound guidance grounded
on true values, living by Right Livelihood, and supporting aged
parents. In Buddhism, however, marriage is not a compulsory institution
for all lay followers. It is optional. This brings us to the important
question of sex.

The sex instinct is a powerful impersonal impulse or force in us all
to ensure the preservation of the race. Nature, to make sure of its
objective, made the reproductive act of sexual union highly pleasurable
so that it is inevitably sought by the individual for its own sake.
There is no special mating season for humans, and males and females may
find that they are physically attracted at any time.

Sex is an essential part of life. In some form or other it affects
us every day, and often ends in choosing a partner for life. It can
make or mar a householder’s life.

What is the Buddhist attitude to sex? For a lay person, there is
nothing sinful or shameful in sex, nor does it carry lifelong burdens
of guilt. Sexual desires, in its personal aspect, is just like another
form of craving and, as craving, leads to suffering. Sexual desire,
too, must be controlled and finally totally eradicated. This happiness2 arises only at the third stage of Sainthood, that of Anagami. When a lay Buddhist becomes an Anagami, he leads a celibate life.

But sexual behavior, in its social context, demands mindfulness of
the fact that at least one other person’s happiness is at stake and,
possibly, that of another — a potential child. And children born of
premarital relations, when deprived and unwanted, often develop into
juvenile delinquents. Besides, pre-marital sex may carry with it the
risks of venereal infection. A compassionate Buddhist, mindful of his
own and others’ welfare, acts wisely and responsibly in sexual matters.
Misconduct for a layman means sexual union with the wives of others or
those under protection of father, mother, sister, brother, or guardian,
including one’s employees.

Adolescence is a period of stress and strain. It is at this time
that the sex instinct becomes active, and sensible parents should guide
and help their children to adjust to the changes. This sexual energy
could be diverted not merely to outdoor games and sports, but also to
creative activities like hand work, gardening, and other constructive

It is not easy for an unmarried adult to practice sexual
self-restraint till such time as he is able to marry. No doubt he lives
in a sex-drenched commercial civilization where sex is seen, heard,
sensed, and thought of most the time. But the ideal of sex only within
marriage is something worth aiming at. The Buddhist’s ultimate
objective is, after all, to be a Perfect Man — not a perfect beast. And
a start has to be made some day, somewhere — and now is the best time
for it.

At all times in a man’s life, it is mind that dominates man’s
actions. It is mind that makes one what one is. There is no doubt about
this. Truly, it is an encouraging fact — one tends to become what one
wants to be. And, if one wishes to be chaste, one can be. One’s life
will then move irresistibly in the direction of its fulfillment.

Much can be done by sublimating the instinct by diverting the energy
in the sex impulse into other activities. Developing an occupational
interest or hobbies or sports can divert the mind and provide suitable
outlets. Moderation in eating is helpful. But what is most important is
the guarding of thoughts regarding all sexual matters. One must also
avoid situations and stimuli likely to excite sexual desires.3 When sensual desires do arise, the following methods may be tried:

  1. Mindfully note the presence of such thoughts without delay; when
    they tend to arise, merely notice them without allowing yourself to be
    carried away by these thoughts.
  2. Simply neglect such thoughts, turning your mind either to beneficial thoughts or to an activity that absorbs you.
  3. Reflect on the possible end results.

Steps should also be taken to foster and maintain all that is
wholesome, as for instance, wise friendship, and keeping oneself
usefully occupied at all times. If one has succeeded in meditative
practice, the happiness derived from it will be a powerful
counter-force against sexual desires.

This mindfulness is the only way to achieve self-mastery. It is a
hard fight requiring patient and persistent practice; nevertheless, it
is a fight worth waging and a goal worth winning.

(d) Social Relationships

A lay Buddhist lives in society. He must adjust himself to other
people to get on smoothly with them. Human relationships — the
education of the emotions — are the fourth R in education and play an
important part in everyday life. So instead of keeping pace with, or
outdoing others socially, financially, and in other ways, the
understanding layman proceeds to do something more useful. Happiness
and security then lie in finding out exactly what one can do, and doing
it well.

The lay person who practices morality (sila) by reason of his
virtue, gives peace of mind to those around him. He controls his deeds
and words by following the third, fourth, and fifth steps of the noble
Eightfold Path, namely Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood
or by observing the Five Precepts (Pañca Sila).

Such regulated behavior flows from proper understanding of the
Buddhist doctrine of kamma, that a man is what he is because of action
and the result of action. If one is genuinely trying to tread the path,
one’s daily life should reflect it. So, the Buddhist avoids killing
living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, drugs, intoxicants, and
harmful lying, tale-bearing, harsh words, and idle talk.

The Buddha’s attitude toward stupefying drugs and intoxicants is
clear and simple: complete abstinence from both. And why? The immediate
aim of a Buddhist layman is happiness and security, here and now — in
the present existence, while his distant objective is the lasting peace
and security of Nibbana and, therewith, freedom from repeated births
and deaths, with their attendant frustrations, disappointments, and the
pain of temporal life. Now, the one and only tool he has at his
disposal to achieve both of these goals is the weapon of the mind,
which, under the wise guidance of the Master’s teaching, he gradually
learns to use with skill, without ill to himself or others. And one of
the best ways of impairing the efficiency of this precious mental
instrument — to make it dull and blunt, is to partake of intoxicating
drinks and drugs. Even when taken in moderation they have a pernicious
influence on the mind and on the body, as well as on the character and
the moral qualities. Under their baneful effects, mind becomes
confused, and the drinker finds it difficult to distinguish between
right and wrong, good and bad, the true and false. Such a person, then,
wrongs himself, wrongs those who live with him, and wrongs society at
large. On the other hand, he who faithfully follows the Buddha’s advice
and abstains completely from the use of all intoxicants and harmful
drugs, is always sober in mind, and is therefore able to exercise
physical, mental, and moral control. Such a one has always a clear mind
and can easily understand what is going on within, and also without,
one’s mind.

But what of a Buddhist who, as a rule, refrains from alcoholic
drinks and drugs, but occasionally finds himself placed in a delicate
situation such as when offered an intoxicating drink at a party given
by his superior or at an important occasion? Should he accept or
refuse? At least two possible courses are open to him: he could
politely decline excusing himself on medical grounds (which are
justifiable), and ask instead for a non-alcoholic drink, mindfully
noting what is taking place, and impress on his mind that even a single
deviation from the ideal of total abstinence is to open the way, even
temporarily, to heedlessness, recklessness, and mental confusion.
Alcohol does impair the ability to think clearly, to decide wisely, and
to perform any work of an exacting nature. If a Buddhist layman, while
aiming at absolute perfection occasionally lapses, and is content with
approximations, he is free to do so — but at his own grave peril.

Positively, the Buddhist layman is kind and compassionate to all,
honest and upright, pure and chaste, sober and heedful in mind. He
speaks only that which is true, in accordance with facts, sweet,
peaceable, and helpful. Morality is a fence that protects us from the
poisons of the outer world. It is, therefore, a pre-requisite for
higher spiritual aspirations and through it character shines. The
development of personality on such lines results in charm, tact, and
tolerance — essential qualities to adjust oneself to society, and to
get on well with other people.

In the Sigalovada Sutta,
the Buddha explained to young Sigala the reciprocal relationship that
should exist among the members of society. They are worth mentioning in
brief; parents have to look after their children, and guide and educate
them; children have to respect their parents, perform their duties and
maintain family traditions; teachers must train and instruct pupils in
the proper way; and pupils in turn must be diligent and dutiful; a
husband should be kind, loyal, and respectful of his wife, supply her
needs and give her due place in the home, and she in return should be
faithful, understanding, efficient, industrious, and economical in the
performance of her duties; friends should be generous, sincere, kindly,
and helpful to one another, and a sheltering tree in time of need;
employers must be considerate to their employees, give adequate wages,
ensure satisfactory conditions of work and service and they, in return
must work honestly, efficiently and be loyal to their masters; the
laity should support and sustain the monks and other holy men who, in
turn, should discourage them to do evil, encourage them to do good,
expound the teaching and show the way to happiness.

Buddhist morality is grounded on both thought and feeling. A
Buddhist monk does social service when he himself, while not engaging
in the worldly life, so teaches the Dhamma that he makes the lay
followers better Buddhists, and thereby induces them to take to social
work, which is an ideal practical form of the Four Sublime States,
Loving Kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and Equanimity, besides
their practice of these at the meditational levels. They should be the
four cornerstones of genuine lay Buddhist life. The Four Sublime States
form the foundation of individual and social peace, and combine in them
the realism of human nature and the idealism of youth to work for the
social betterment, out of natural sympathy and concern for

But social work to be of real value should spring from genuine love,
sympathy, and understanding for fellow-men, guided by knowledge and
training. It is the living expression of Buddhist brotherhood.

The cultivation of the neglect of these duties is a matter for each
one of us, but their promotion will undoubtedly foster healthier
inter-personal relationships, decrease social tension and irritability,
and appreciably increase social good, stability, and harmony.

Mental Health

Life is full of stress and strain, but we have to live in conditions
as they are and make the best of them. Successful adjustment to life in
the light of Buddha’s teachings will, however, ensure the all-round
progress of the lay Buddhist, maximizing happiness and minimizing pain.

The Buddha names four kinds of lay happiness: the happiness of
possession as health, wealth, longevity, wife, and children; the
enjoyment of such possessions; freedom from debt; and a blameless moral
and spiritual life. Yet even the happiest person cannot say when and in
what form misfortune may strike him. Against suffering, the externals
of life will be of little or no avail. Real happiness and security are
then to be sought in one’s own mind, to be built up by constant effort,
mindfulness, and concentration.

So the wise layman while being in this world, will try to be less and less of
it. He will train his mind to look at life mindfully with detachment,
and soon discover that modern civilization is, by and large, a
commercial one, for the benefit of a powerful minority at the expense
of the unthinking majority, based on the intensification and
multiplication of artificial wants, often by arousing and stimulating
the undesirable and lower elements of human nature, and that the
increasing satisfaction of these wants leads not to peace and stillness
of mind, but only to chronic discontent, restlessness, dissatisfaction,
and conflict.

He therefore decides to practice voluntary simplicity and finds a new freedom; the less he wants, the happier and freer he is.

Thinking man realizes that there are but four essential needs for
the body — pure food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. Corresponding to
these, there are four for the mind — right knowledge, virtue, constant
guarding of the sense doors, and meditation.

Bhavana, or meditation, is the systematic training and
culture of the mind with Nibbana as its goal. The emotions are
controlled, the will is disciplined, and the instinctive energies are
diverted from their natural ends — led along the Four Great Efforts
(the sixth step of the path) — to the sublimated ideal of a perfect Man
(the Arahant) or Nibbana. If there is an urgent felt need, the ideal
has the power of drawing out all one’s instinctive impulses so that
they are sublimated and harmonized, giving satisfaction to the
individual, and therefore benefiting the community as well.

Closely connected with our instincts are the emotions. By emotion is
meant a feeling which moves us strongly. We get stirred up, as it were.
Examples of emotion are fear, anger, and strong sexual passion. When
emotion floods the mind, reason retreats or disappears, and we often do
things for which we repent later. So some emotional control is
necessary, for, without it, character cannot be developed, and moral
and spiritual progress is impossible.

Fear is a common emotion that darkens our lives. It is anticipation
of deprivations. One tries to live in two periods of time at once — the
present and the future. To know how fear arises enables us to take the
right steps for its removal. It results from wrong seeing, not
understanding things as they really are. Uncertainty and change are the
keynotes of life. To each one of us there is only one thing that is
truly “ours,” is “us”: our character, as shown by our actions. As for
the rest, nothing belongs to us. We can visualize everything else being
taken away, save this. But this, one’s character, nobody and nothing
else can deprive one of. Why then go to pieces when all other things
that are liable to break, do break? Why fret about the fragility of the
frail? Besides, are we so careful of not taking other people’s things,
as we are of preserving ours? Our past actions of depriving others may
only end in others now depriving us. It is only fair and just.

This attitude of detachment to life’s storms is the only sound
philosophy that can bring one a true security and a true serenity.

Or again, there is no such thing as justifiable anger in Buddhism,
for if one is in the right, one should not be angry, and if one is in
the wrong, one cannot afford to be angry. Therefore, under any
circumstances one should not become angry.

A good way to secure emotional control is to practice noticing
mindfully and promptly an incipient hindrance (or any other mental
state of mind); then, of its own, it tends to fade away. If done as
often as possible, it will be very effective. The five hindrances are
undue attachment to sensual desire; ill-will; laziness and inertia;
agitation and worry; and doubt. The last here refers to indecision or
un-steadiness in the particular thing that is being done. One must know
exactly one’s own mind — not be a Hamlet, unable to decide, because one
is always mistrusting one’s own judgment.

Daily practice is the way to progress. Even a little practice every
day, brings a person a little nearer to his object, day by day.


1. See E.F.S. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful, (Blond & Briggs, London, 1973), p. 48ff., “Buddhist Economics”; H.N.S. Karunatilaka, This Confused Society (Buddhist Information Centre, Colombo, 1976); Dr. Padmasiri de Silva, Buddhist Economics (Bodhi Leaves No. B. 69).

2. Complete freedom from the sexual urge.

3. To the latter belong films, pictures, and literature which are chiefly intended to provide sexual titillation.

Right Livelihood:
The Noble Eightfold Path in the Working Life [go up]
by Susan Elbaum Jootla

The question of correct livelihood is of great importance for any
practicing lay Buddhist. So also to the many meditators once they have
done enough meditation courses and work on their own to realize that
they must live a Dhamma life. Just what is Right Livelihood — how broad
is the category of trades a disciple of the Buddha cannot ply? And how
can one best work so that he is developing the other seven Path factors
while earning a living? Is work a total waste — just a means to the end
of supporting oneself in order to meditate? Or can one’s job be used in
a more constructive way so that it brings some direct benefit to those
around us as well? These and many other related issues come to the mind
of anyone who finds himself in the position of the Buddha’s teachings,
and to a large extent each of us has to determine for himself the
details of how to work out the livelihood aspects of his life. In this
essay an attempt is made simply to outline how we can try to use the
Noble Eightfold Path in relation to our work — whether it is in an
office or a factory, in the city or country, whether it is indoors or
outdoors, white collar or blue collar or neither. If the meditator
succeeds in applying sila (morality), samadhi (concentration), and pañña
(wisdom), the three aspects of the Path, at work as well as in all
other life situations, he will be growing in Dhamma even during the
part of the day that is apparently devoted to non-Dhamma work, and at
the same time he will be doing his job well and sharing his peace of
mind and metta (loving-kindness) with those his livelihood brings him into contact with.

Monks, these five trades ought not to be plied by a lay-disciple…
Trade in weapons, trade in human beings, trade in flesh, trade in
spirits [intoxicants] and trade in poison.

— Gradual Sayings III, p. 153. (AN 5.177)

And what, monks, is wrong mode of livelihood? Trickery, cajolery,
insinuating, dissembling, rapacity for gain upon gain… And what,
monks, is the right side of merit that ripens unto cleaving to a new
birth? Herein monks, an ariyan disciple, by getting rid of wrong
livelihood, earns his living by a right mode of living…

— Middle Length Sayings III, pp. 118-19.

The fields of livelihood which the Buddha prohibited to his lay
followers, as listed in the initial quotation above, are limited to
those in which the disciple would be directly, on his own
responsibility, involved in breaking one or more of the Five Precepts,
which are the very basic moral rules for the Buddhist layman. Anyone
who is attempting to develop morality, concentration, and wisdom, to
grow in compassion and insight, cannot deal in weapons of any sort, at
any level of the business because by doing so he would be involving
himself in causing harm or injury to others for his own monetary gain.
These days the probability of trading in human beings as slaves or for
prostitution is limited, but certainly any job with such overtones is
to be avoided. Breeding animals for slaughter as meat or for other uses
that may be made of the carcasses is not allowed because this obviously
implies breaking the First Precept: I shall abstain from killing. 1
Similarly, anyone trying to follow the teachings of the Buddha should
avoid hunting and fishing, nor can he be an exterminator of animals.
Dealing in alcohol or intoxicating drugs would be making oneself
directly responsible for encouraging others to break the Fifth Precept:
I shall abstain from all intoxicants. While by no means everyone we
meet is trying to keep these precepts, still, to help others directly
in breaking any of them is certainly wrong livelihood. If we
manufacture, deal in, or use insecticides or other kinds of poisons in
our work, we are engaging to some degree in wrong livelihood because
here, too, we are breaking the First Precept and directly encouraging
others to do so as well. However, the motivation behind the use of such
material has a great deal to do with the depth of the kamma being
created. A doctor rightly gives drugs which are harmful to bacteria and
viruses, not because he hates the “bugs,” but in order to help cure the
human being. Here the good more than balances the bad. But if we go
about applying poison to rat-holes and cockroaches’ hideouts with anger
or aversion toward the pests, we would be generating considerably
strong bad kamma.

But these five are the only ways of earning a living which are to be
strictly avoided by one who is walking on the Path. Other fields of
endeavor may seem trivial to the meditator investigating the job
market, or they may appear to be just helping others to create more tanha
(craving), or they may involve some indirect responsibility in wrong
speech or action — but we must find our work within the context of the
society from which we come and within the framework of available job
opportunities. It is not possible first to go about setting up the
ideal Dhamma community and then find work within it; so we must live in
the society and serve its members to the best of our ability. Someone
who finds Dhamma in middle age and is settled into a career with little
reasonable possibility of shifting to one more strictly in accord with
Right Livelihood can — and must — practice Dhamma as it is possible
within his context. For example, only rarely does an army officer serve
in combat — the rest of the time there is ample scope for him to work
wisely, according to pañña, in a detached way, giving the
necessary commands without being overly harsh. There are a substantial
number of police officers in Rajasthan doing vipassana meditation who
already are feeling the benefits of meditation in preserving law and
order and dealing with criminals and the general public with little
anger. Even people whose livelihood is solely dependent on hunting or
fishing can at least develop dana (liberality) and other
virtues — as Burmese fishermen do — even if it is impossible for them
to give up an incorrect mode of earning a living. After all, an
important reason for which serious Buddhists become monks is that “the
householder’s life is full of dust,” and few positions for lay
livelihood can allow one to be completely pure. Due to the
interdependence of all phases of society and today’s complex economic
structures, it is very difficult to live as a layman and keep the
perfect sila the meditator strives for — a farmer has to use
insecticides, public health workers kill mosquitoes and their larvae, a
truck driver may sometimes have to transport arms or poison. Often one
is in a position of having to exaggerate one’s statements or omit
disadvantageous facts, even if one does not like it. So we must earn
our livelihood as we have been trained, and as we find a position for
ourselves in society while constantly making an effort to grow in

However, if we let the Dhamma slide and allow our daily routine work
to take over and become the thing of paramount importance, then we have
lost track of the goal we set for ourselves in being dedicated
followers of the Buddha, and especially serious vipassana meditators.
One cannot use Dhamma for one’s increased mundane profit and continue
to grow in pañña (wisdom) at the same time because then desire for gain (which is tanha)
will be the root of one’s very Dhamma practice and a complete
distortion of the real purpose of Dhamma — the elimination of craving (tanha) and so of suffering (dukkha).
Occupational work is a means to keep alive and to support one’s
dependents so that one can grow in Dhamma. Trying to use the Dhamma to
help one achieve more at work and ignoring the Noble Eightfold Path or
getting so involved in business that one cannot even sit for meditation
an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening is making a farce of
Dhamma — perhaps keeping the form but surely losing the essence of the
Buddha’s teaching. This is the way of dukkha, productive of suffering. To alleviate dukkha one must live by the Eightfold Path, earning one’s livelihood within its context, trying to practice sila, samadhi, and pañña — morality, concentration, and wisdom — at the workplace as well as while formally sitting in meditation.

Once we have found a suitable job, the more long range task begins — applying the Buddha’s teachings at work. If we can keep sila
only during meditation courses what serious benefit have we gained from
such training periods? If we lose all our mindfulness, concentration,
and wisdom when we are confronted with the vibrations of a big city or
the workplace, where is our wisdom? To grow in Dhamma we have to try
constantly to apply the whole of the Noble Eightfold Path in all life’s
circumstances, and some of the more challenging situations we will come
across are very likely to be those we meet during working hours. Jobs
are particularly important occasions to keep carefully to the Path for
a number of reasons: (1) usually we do not have the support of the
Sangha while at work and so are completely on our own; (2) work tends
to arouse all previous thought associations and our deep-seated
conditionings of greed, competition, and aversion; (3) so many of our
waking hours are inevitably involved in simply earning a living. Yet if
we rightly apply the Path factors on the job, we are still assured of
moving toward success in the supramundane field, and we are quite apt
to find that these factors enable us to do well in our chosen mundane
work as well.

Let us first examine the relationship at work between the three sila
factors of Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. Right
Livelihood was outlined in the first quotation from the Buddha. But
Right Livelihood will not be really pure unless it includes Right
Speech and Right Action as well. We have to strive with determination
to keep all the Five Precepts while we work at a job, as well as for
the rest of the time. The forms of wrong speech and wrong action to be
avoided are all those in which lying, backbiting, or harming of others
would be involved. If we are honest in our speech and actions, our
employers will certainly be pleased with our work and we will be
growing in Dhamma by confronting our mind’s opposing tendencies; we
will note when the mind tries to find the easy way out or to blame
others for our own errors. If we are running our own business, we must
be scrupulously honest in our dealings with our customers and avoid all
“trickery, cajolery… dissembing.” We can make a reasonable profit for
services we perform of bringing our commodity to the consumer, but we
must not let ourselves get caught up in the businessman’s perpetual
tendency toward “rapacity for gain upon gain.” The merchant plays an
important role and function in the community, but the
meditator-businessman must always keep in mind that his job is to serve
the society and provide for the needs of his family — not to make the
maximum amount of money with the least effort as he might previously
have perceived it.

Whatever our work situation is — in an office, factory, or shop — we will always feel the benefits of keeping sila.
If we do not indulge in gossip or slander — “office or academic
politics” — but keep clearly to the side of right and honesty in every
situation that arises with other workers or our employers, we will find
that we are less often at the receiving end of other people’s anger. In
fact, if we are really able to keep on the Path at work, we may well
find ourselves in the position of peacemaker or mediator between the
opposing sides in many a workplace dispute — and in such a role we will
certainly be serving others.

To practice Right Action at work we must scrupulously avoid anything
even remotely related to stealing for our own personal gain. The less
we are involved in anyone else’s taking what was not intended for him,
the better off we are as well. So it is beneficial to all to dissuade
other workers from stealing from the establishment, “liberating”
materials, or otherwise misappropriating the employer’s property. On
the other hand, the kammic implications for us in occasionally having
to exaggerate a bit at the boss’s behest, or to do the firm’s accounts
in a legally dubious way they have always been done, once in a while,
are not so severe because the full responsibility for such occasional
acts is not with us. However, we do bear some responsibility in these
situations and if the job seems to require chronic dishonesty in speech
or action, and this situation cannot be altered by discussion with the
employer, then it may be necessary to change jobs. But we have to keep
a balanced perspective and not keep running after the perfect work —
part of the dukkha of the householder’s life is the necessity to function in an immoral society while keeping one’s own mind clear.

So if we have chosen work which does not involve us in killing, or
trading in living beings, or poisons, or in dealing in intoxicants, we
are earning a Right Livelihood. And if, while on the job we carefully
avoid lying, stealing, and the associated forms of wrong speech and
action, we are doing our work and simultaneously practicing sila on the Path.

The samadhi section of the Path during meditation has effects
in the mundane world, for Right Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration
will contribute greatly to our success in our career.

Right Effort at work, as elsewhere, must be neither over-exertion
nor laziness, but a Middle Path. For a businessman to spend all his
waking hours involved in the concerns of his firm means that he is
consumed with some strong tanha either for making money or for
some particular set of circumstances to come about, and this is in
direct contradiction with living the Dhamma life. On the other hand,
the employee who sees how inane his work is, or how absurd it is to put
two pieces into a car on an assembly line for eight hours a day, or
that his job just helps people keep revolving in dukkha, and so
sits back and does only the barest minimum required of him, means to be
overcome by defilement of sloth and torpor, and probably ill-will as
well. Right Effort at work means doing our best to accomplish the tasks
before us — without becoming mindlessly absorbed or involved in them to
the point of forgetting equanimity, and without the inertia that comes
of a belligerent mind which thinks itself to be superior to the
position it is in. Unrelenting effort in the mundane sphere is
summarized by the Buddha in a discourse on the householder’s life to
the lay disciple Dighajanu (quoted in “Meditation and the Householder”
by Ven. Acharya Buddharakkhita, in Maha Bodhi, January 1976):

By whatsoever activity a householder earns his living, whether by
farming, by trading, by rearing cattle, by archery, by service under
the king, or by any other kind of craft, at that he becomes skillful
are tireless. He is endowed with the power of discernment as to the
proper ways and means; he is able to arrange and carry out duties. This
is called the accomplishment of unrelenting effort.

Samma sati, Right Mindfulness or Awareness, is the next factor of the samadhi section of the Path, and there are several ways in which the mindfulness we gain from vipassana will help us on the job.

Herein, Dighajanu, whatsoever wealth a householder is in possession
of, obtained by work and zeal, collected by the strength of this arm,
by the sweat of his brow, justly acquired by right means, such he
husbands well by guarding and watching so that kings may not seize it,
thieves may not steal it, nor fire burn it, nor water carry it off, nor
ill-disposed heirs remove. This is the accomplishment of watchfulness.

The quality of mindfulness mentioned by the Buddha here is not the same as the samma-sati
of the Noble Eightfold Path, but this watchfulness is a by-product of
mindfulness important to the lay-follower. The more the meditator has
developed awareness in the supramundane field, the more careful he will
be in all situations of life — meditative, household, or work. If one’s
mindfulness is not “Right,” however, then one will be apt to take this
injunction of the Buddha’s as license to indulge in great upadana,
that is, in clinging, by all possible means, to what one regards as
one’s own. This kind of ignorance-based watchfulness will only lead to dukkha.
What we have to learn to do is care for the possessions we have
acquired so that we and our dependents can make best use of them, but
without making the error of expecting them to last indefinitely, nor of
considering them as a personal possession fully in one’s own control.
To want only to give away one’s hard-earned or inherited goods to
anyone who expresses a desire for them is folly. Dana or
charity can earn us great merit, but only when done in wisdom and when
the quality of the recipient also helps to determine how much merit is
earned. Material possessions in themselves are not the fetters that
keep us in dukkha, so having fewer things or more, for that
matter, will not necessarily bring more happiness; it is our attachment
to them that is the bondage that must be eliminated. So if we apply
Right Mindfulness to the proper taking care of our things, we are only
intelligently providing for our own welfare and for that of those who
are dependent on us, not necessarily generating more tanha (craving).

Increased awareness or mindfulness is intertwined with improved
concentration in enhancing our performance at work. Greater awareness
of all the parameters of a situation will enable a businessman to make
more accurate decisions, a workman to avoid accidents, and a teacher to
really communicate information to his students.

In addition to this mindfulness of external situations, we also have
to try to be mindful of our own minds and bodies while we work, as well
as the rest of the time, of course. Once we become fairly established
in the tradition of vedananupassana (mindfulness of feelings,
as taught in the tradition of Sayaji U Ba Khin), we have acquired a
ready technique for keeping mindfulness always with us. Continual
change is always going on in our bodies, so at no time can it be said
that there are no sensations, since it is the impermanent (anicca)
nature of the body which causes the sensations. Once we have acquired
the skill of feeling these sensations while we are engaged in daily
activities, we would do well to keep some degree of awareness of the anicca feelings, or of anapana
(mindfulness of breathing) awake all the time. Then no matter how
difficult, or how boring, or how exhausting be the tasks that we are
faced with, we will find that we have a relatively equanimous and
balanced mind with which to face them because we will be alternating
mind-moments of mindfulness and wisdom relating to the ultimate nature
of our mind-and-body (nama-rupa) with the mind-moments that are
of necessity fully engaged in the mundane work at hand. Meditators
engaged in contemplating the feelings (vedananupassana), who
have practiced the technique for some time, find that this mindfulness
of the sensations which are caused by the continual flux that is the
nature of the body keeps them in a balanced and detached frame of mind
in all kinds of trying situations — and certainly work experiences can
sometimes be difficult enough to make it well worth our while to
develop the skill of keeping the mindfulness of anicca (impermanence) always with us.

Concentration, the last of the samadhi section of the Path,
obviously is vital to anyone in any task he attempts. The meditator
will find that vipassana has enhanced his one-pointedness and this
skill will be applied in all the spheres of life, including work. But
he must be sure that even at work this concentration is not rooted in
strong craving or ill-will, otherwise the meditator may fall into the
trap of squandering pure Dhamma for material gain, by using the
enhanced concentration without the other aspects of the Path, sila and pañña,
to balance it. Naturally, it is always useful to keep one’s mind
clearly focused on the job at hand — if the mind is constantly running
off in various directions toward irrelevant objects, our work will be
slowed down and perhaps inadequately completed. As the mind is trained
in vipassana meditation to be detached from, not distracted by, the
pleasure and pains of the senses, we will find that when we are working
we will have less and less difficulty concentrating on what has to be
done at this time and tend to worry less about the past or future. This
does not mean that we do not plan our purchases or work schedule or
ignore the future implications of decisions taken now. We do all these
kinds of activities; we make all needed choices and decisions, but once
such action has been taken, the mind settles back down into the job of
the present without being hampered and held back by worries about the
past or fears of the future.

An artist or mechanic or craftsman is much better at his creating if
his concentration is clear and his mind stays firmly with the materials
at hand. A doctor’s or lawyer’s understanding of his client’s situation
will be correspondingly increased as his concentration on what the
client describes is improved — he cannot practice his profession at all
without a fair amount of concentration. Certainly all kinds of teaching
and learning depend on one-pointedness of mind. A merchant or farmer or
businessman will be much better equipped to solve the difficulties of
his work if he can carefully concentrate on all aspects of the problems
at hand, distinguish relevant from tangential issues, and sort out
appropriate solutions. Concentration is one of the mental factors that
is present in any mind-moment, but the degree to which it is developed
varies considerably between individuals. A vipassana meditator
generally has a well-developed faculty of concentration due to his
mental training and if he puts this ability to appropriate use in the
workplace, he will in this way gain mundane benefits from his

The remaining sections of the Noble Eightfold Path fall into the category of wisdom. Samma-ditthi,
Right Understanding or Right View, means the ability to see things as
they are in their true nature by penetrating through the apparent
truth. This means understanding the anicca, dukkha, and anatta
nature of all phenomena, mental and physical, that is their
impermanency, unsatisfactoriness, and egolessness. This understanding
should be applied to everyday life — including our work.

Right Understanding (samma ditthi) also requires a basic
understanding of the Four Noble Truths — of Suffering, its Cause, its
Cessation; further, of the Law of Kamma or moral cause and effect, and
the Doctrine of Dependent Origination. By means of Right Thought, samma-sankappa,
the remaining Path-and-Wisdom-factor, one considers all that happens in
life with a mind that is free of greed and of hatred. For this
discussion of the Noble Eightfold Path in the work situation it is not
necessary to separate Right Thought from Right Understanding, as
without one the other could not exist in such situations.

To apply wisdom (pañña) at work means always trying to keep
the mind equanimous and detached while it is engaged in the necessary
mundane activities and interaction with other people. So if the boss
gets annoyed and shouts at us, we remind ourselves that he is at that
moment suffering and generating more suffering for himself. We try to
do the right thing if he is pointing out a reasonable fault, and in any
case we attempt to send him metta and not let anger arise in reaction to his sparks.

Whenever a businessman or professor or other professional gets so
involved in his work that it occupies his mind all the time, keeping it
scheming up more plans or “solving problems” without rest or even time
for meditation, he is acting on the basis of ignorance, not of wisdom.
He has forgotten that all the phenomena he is dealing with are
primarily operating according to laws of cause and effect, and that his
own will and decisions can only do one part of any job; the remainder
is beyond his control.

One is not seeing anatta, the egoless nature of external phenomena if he develops tremendous craving (tanha) for the results of his work. Anicca,
change and decay, is inherent in all phenomena, but we often slip into
ignorance of this factor and unreasonably try to prolong favorable
business conditions or consider our resources infinite or get attached
to any particular situation. If we forget the Four Noble Truths at
work, especially the First and Second — dukkha and tanha as the cause of dukkha
— we will be continuing to generate more and more unhappiness for
ourselves as our craving grows in intensity. Job situations, especially
since they involve money, are very likely to bring up the strong
conditioning for craving we all have from the past, and if this desire
is not observed with wisdom, we will be continually digging deeper
mental ruts that will inevitably lead to future misery. To avoid this
we have to train our minds to see how no situation, however apparently
“pleasant” it may seem to be, is actually desirable because: (1) no
situation can last, all are anicca; (2) the state of craving is itself one of unhappiness; and (3) all craving must lead in the direction of future dukkha.
And, of course, the opposite situation in which the mind reacts with
aversion to the circumstances, be they work-related or otherwise, is
precisely the same — both clinging and aversion are tanha.

If the market for our product is favorable at present, if our
superiors are pleased with our work, if we are getting good grades at
the university, or if any other pleasant situation arises in the course
of our work, we would do well to recall that this situation, too, is
unsatisfactory. Pleasant experiences bring dukkha because they cannot last forever, and any mind which still has conditioning of tanha and avijja
(ignorance), will try to cling to what it likes, striving to perpetuate
the pleasant feelings. If we keep the First and Second Noble Truths in
mind when we encounter both happy and unhappy states on the job, our
minds will be able to remain detached and calm and perfectly equanimous
— the only kind of happiness that can endure — no matter what
vicissitudes we have to face. At any moment we may run into material
gain or loss, be famous or infamous, receive praise or blame,
experience happiness or pain. But if the mind remains free from
clinging, if it has seen dukkha in all craving, then none of
this can really touch us and we are sure of inner peace, no matter what
the outer circumstances may be.

Recalling the law of cause and effect, cultivating this aspect of pañña
at work, is quite important and useful. To create good kamma the mind
has to try to remain free of clinging and aversion, so we have to keep
a close watch on our reactions if we are not to prolong the misery of samsara. We should not, however, expect that just because we have thought of this and are trying to keep ourselves away from tanha that this freedom will easily come about — this would be forgetting the anatta
egolessness nature of the mind. Only gradually can we recondition the
mind to operate in channels based on wisdom, by reminding ourselves
whenever we notice an unwholesome reaction that such actions lead only
to dukkha, and that nothing at all is worth getting attached to
or developing aversion toward. In this way, over a long period of time
we will notice how the force of our reactions does diminish. So when
our superior yells at us and we in turn get angry, we just note the
reaction and the sensations that arise, see their foolishness and as
soon as we can, just let go of them. If a business deal is pending, and
we are getting more and more tense about it as the days go by, we may
not be able to just give up the tension, but if we observe how this
particular conditioning of the mind is happening with some part of the
mind detached and with the sensations (which will be reflecting the
mind-reactions), we are no longer reinforcing the tension sankharas and
so the next time they arise, they will be weaker. Becoming impatient
with the unwholesome tendencies of the mind cannot change them and, in
fact, this would be generating more unwholesome tendencies of a
slightly different sort. If the aversion to work keeps coming up, never
mind; just observe that, too, with the anicca sensations, and slowly it will decrease in frequency and intensity.

Pañña can and must be applied in all situation. It may not be
as powerfully clear as when we are meditating, but if we neglect it
during the part of the day while at work, we are not living by the
totality of the Path; and without trying to understand all the
situations of life in their ultimate nature, we cannot expect to
progress toward the goal of liberation from all suffering.

When we have undertaken the task of removing all the causes of
suffering — which is what it means to be a serious vipassana meditator
— we have committed ourselves to a full-time job. To grow in the wisdom
that can remove dukkha one must at all times try to practice
all the aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path. This is the Way taught by
the Buddha that enables us to find for ourselves real and lasting peace
and happiness. When we are engaged in our mundane work of earning a
livelihood, we must be sure to keep our sila (morality) as pure as possible. Vipassana meditation will have increased our samadhi
(concentration) and we must be sure that it is Right Concentration we
apply on the job, along with balanced Effort. Mindfulness of the true
nature of the external experiences and internal phenomena we come into
contact with when working must be kept alive. And finally, pañña,
Right Understanding, and Right Thought must be developed with respect
to our relationships with our co-workers, the various conditions at the
workplace, and the functioning of our minds while engaged in earning a

As we practice the Noble Eightfold Path and live the life of a
lay-disciple of the Buddha, meditating while working and living in
society, we will find ourselves growing in Dhamma while simultaneously
serving all those we come into contact with in some fashion or the
other. And just this is the essence of the Dhamma life — to eradicate
the causes of one’s own suffering by purifying the mind, and with the
mind thus freed of greed, hatred, and ignorance, full of metta and compassion, help others in their own quest for real happiness.



The original BPS printed edition includes this sentence here: “Working
on someone else’s beef ranch or selling packaged meat is acceptable as
there is no responsibility for killing involved.” This statement
directly contradicts the author’s previous sentence (”Breeding animals
for slaughter as meat… is not allowed…”) and is plainly at odds
with the Buddha’s own definition of wrong livelihood (AN 5.177). — ATI ed.

Having Taken the First Step [go up]
by M.O’C. Walshe

What does it feel like when one has fairly recently embarked on a
course of Buddhism? The answers will vary a great deal, no doubt, but
there ought to be some general characteristics and some problems common
to the majority of “newborn” Buddhists in the West. Let us assume that
you are a person who has quite recently, or within the last year or so,
begun to take Buddhism seriously as a personal way of life. You may by
now be just looking round a bit in your new mental surroundings and
trying to take stock of what has happened, now that the first novelty
of the situation has worn off. You have, I sincerely hope, tried to do
a bit of meditation, though it would not surprise me in the least to
hear that you have found this difficult and disappointing. If so, I
would like to tell you straight away that you should not be
discouraged. This is quite the normal thing. Meditation may seem
disappointing and even almost useless for quite a long time, but if you
persevere in it, results are bound to come. But these results may not
be at all the sort of thing you expect. And you may not even be the person who first becomes aware of them. So press on regardless, and don’t look
for results. If you can see the point of this piece of advice you have
already in fact made useful progress. Insights often come very subtly.

People’s motives for taking up Buddhism may vary a great deal on the
surface. But fundamentally you have probably come to it because, in one
way or another, it seems to promise you security. If you
haven’t realized before that this was a good part of your motive, you
might usefully use your next meditation period trying to find out
whether I was right or not. If you have realized this, then you may
agree that you find the formula “I go to the Buddha, the Dhamma, and
the Sangha for refuge” strangely comforting. And so it should be in one
way, even though fundamentally you have to learn to be “a refuge unto
yourself.” This is perhaps the first of the many paradoxes you will
encounter attempting to tread the Buddhist path.

Now if we consider this problem of security a little further, we
soon find that we do indeed crave for it. The obvious reason is that we
feel life frankly unnerving, in fact, because insecure. Here, then, we find straight away two of the three “Marks of Existence”: all things are marked by impermanence and suffering. Because
they — and we — are impermanent, they are frustrating and cause us all
kinds of anguish. Buddhism offers a way out of this situation by
treading the Noble Eightfold Path. I am assuming that, having “taken
the first step,” you are now familiar with the Four Noble Truths and
the steps of this Path. So I just want to mention a few points which
may arise at this stage. The first step of the path is known as Right
Understanding or Right View. This is seeing things as they are. There
are large areas of experience which we would much rather know nothing
about. This is the origin of repression, to use a Freudian term which
is misleadingly translated. The German for “repression” in the
psychoanalytical sense is Verdrangung, “thrusting away.” It is
really successful self-deception. Getting rid of our repressions is
therefore not doing what we like, as seems to be popularly imagined,
but ceasing to deceive ourselves.

Fundamentally, Buddhism is just a technique of self-undeception.
This is not easy, though sometimes it may be fun. It needs some study
of theory as well as practice. It is perfectly true that you never gain
enlightenment by intellectual knowledge alone, but if you haven’t
studied the theory to some extent you will almost certainly never be
able to start properly on the practice. Before you can develop your
intuition you must know what it is — or at least what it isn’t — and
self-deception in this respect seems to come terribly easy to many
people. Intuition, or as I much prefer to call it, insight, is not an
emotion, but the best way to develop it is by getting to know one’s
emotions as thoroughly as possible. When these emotions have been
really seen for what are, they no longer stand in the light. Now the
biggest emotional blockage we have is that which surrounds the
ego-idea. Since it is to the ultimate elimination of this idea that the
whole Buddhist training is directed, it may be as well to have a good
look at it. In so doing we may get a shock.

By the ego (or self) in Buddhism we mean of course the concept of “I
am,” though this is much more a feeling than a purely intellectual
concept — which is the very reason why it is so much more difficult to
uproot. From the psychological point of view we must take it to include
not only what in Freudian terms is called the ego, but also the id and
even the super-ego. Though not wholly adequate, the Freudian conception
goes a good way toward giving us the basic idea. This ego of ours is a
complex and dynamic set of functions which are not by any means all
conscious or under any form of normal conscious control. Its nature is
in fact blind ignorance and it fights desperately to maintain that
ignorance. It is most important for us to realize from the outset that
this is the case, because this is the root-cause of all our troubles.
The three unhealthy roots of human nature are greed, hatred, and
ignorance, and all our suffering is due to these three. Ignorance is
the most fundamental, and greed and hate spring from it.

Now the power of ignorance is broken by knowledge, which is seeing
correctly. So all we have to do is to learn to see. A-VID-YA;
“unwitting” or not seeing is no mere passive principle — it is an
active force which opposes discovery of the truth at every turn. No
need to look for an external devil: the Father of Lies is within every
one of us. We all know the story of the Emperor’s new clothes. In
Buddhism the precise opposite of this situation occurs: the clothes go
walking in the procession, but there’s no emperor inside them. The
whole show is laid on for the honor and glory of a character who
doesn’t really exist. Here, then, is our second paradox, and it is
certainly no less startling than the first one: the ego is the most
ruthlessly gluttonous all-devouring monster there is, and yet really
all the time there’s no such thing! All its activities without
exception are simply “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
signifying nothing.” How can we solve this riddle? How can we
ever come to grasp the nature of this peculiar monster that “has no
mouth and no belly, yet gobbles up the entire world” (as some old
Chinese monk might have said, but probably didn’t)?

Clearly there must be a sense in which the self exists and another
sense in which it doesn’t. Let us first of all have a frank look at it
in the sense of something existing. It is not a pretty sight.
Underneath all our lofty ideals, our pious thoughts and holy
aspirations, we are all alike. Our little personal petty self
is the really important thing to us. It is out to grab all it can get,
whether in the way of affection and admiration and sympathy or of more
apparently tangible satisfactions in the way of sex, money, power, nice
things to eat and drink and smell and touch and hear — all
sorts of things and it doesn’t care in the very least how it gets them.
We don’t all want — at least consciously — all of these things perhaps,
but we usually want a lot of credit for not wanting some of them or at
least doing without them, even if by necessity rather than choice. All
these are aspects of greed including the last, which is of course
conceit. They are the things the ego fattens on. Equally impressive and
perhaps even more horrifying is the list of items under the heading of
hate; we are all capable in our minds of murderous rage, sadism,
treachery, and disloyalty of every conceivable kind. Until we have
found and identified the seeds of all these things in our own hearts, we cannot claim to have made much progress in self-knowledge.

Of course most of us will never yield to such impulses, which may
only be very faint; but until a higher stage of development has been
reached they will not be totally eliminated as tendencies. The most
likely way in which they may find some outward expression will be,
perhaps, in the form of over-emotive indignation at the acts of hate
committed by somebody else.

What can we do about this situation? First, face it. Second,
penetrate to its roots. Buddhism is not something airy-fairy or
romantic, it is practical. It is first and last something to do.
To penetrate to the roots of greed, hatred, and delusion is not very
easy and it requires certain methods or techniques. But the great thing
is to keep going at and not be diverted by irrelevancies, interesting
by-paths, plausible excuses or pseudo-mystical fantasies born of
conceit and ignorance. A certain discipline is required, in fact. This
can be summed up in one word — restraint. Restraint is not repression.
In its simplest form it can be something as apparently “easy” as
sitting still. It is just not automatically yielding to every impulse
that arises while not, on the other hand, pretending that that impulse
does not exist. A good part of Buddhism, in modern terms, is
“sales-resistance”: cultivating at least a degree of immunity to the
appeals of the outside world which are today constantly attempting,
quite deliberately and purposefully, to arouse new desires within us.
It is being deaf to the blandishments of the hidden persuaders whether
from within or without, or better perhaps, hearing them without
reacting. Who is the rich man who, like the camel, cannot pass through
the eye of the needle? He is not only the millionaire, the
expense-account johnnie, the take-over charlie: he is anybody who has
too many mental encumbrances, too many wants.

Here then is an exercise: sit down with a straight back for ten
minutes resolved not to make a single voluntary bodily movement during
that time, and just observe what happens. You may get some
surprises, but whatever happens you are bound to learn something. If
you find, as will probably be the case, that a lot of thoughts and
mental images arise, try to discover where they come from, to catch
them at the very moment of arising. You won’t succeed easily, but you
will begin to see something of the mechanism of desires and emotions,
and this is immensely valuable. Perhaps the most widespread
meditational practice in all schools of Buddhism is anapanasati
or mindfulness of breathing. Just watch the ebb and flow of your breath
without interfering and, as far as you can manage, with undivided
attention. This is the surest way to achieve calm, concentration,
self-knowledge, and insight.

There is no Buddhism worthy of the name without practice, but study
is also required. This is especially so in the West, where we have not
the background of Buddhist thought which exists in Eastern countries.
We have to learn as adults what Eastern people have absorbed from
childhood. The study of Buddhist theory should therefore not be
neglected. Those who deny its necessity do so usually out of conceit,
laziness, or ignorance — or a combination of all three.

The obvious problem which arises here is: “Where shall I start?”
There are many schools of Buddhism and their scriptures, even those
readily available in English, are voluminous. There is Theravada and
Mahayana, in the form of Zen, Tibetan Buddhism and several other
varieties. There are numerous books about most of them. Unguided and
indiscriminate reading will only lead to mental indigestion. The
obvious thing is to get down to basics. If we ask where these basic
principles are set out, the answer is in the Pali Canon of the
Theravada school. In fact, the seeds of all later, so-called Mahayana
developments are there in this basic Buddhism.

The only reason why some people find Theravada Buddhism apparently
unsatisfying is its seemingly negative approach. In the Mahayana
schools there is greater explicit stress on two things: compassion and
the higher wisdom. But we need not worry. Compassion grows inevitably
as one trains oneself in Buddhism, and the higher wisdom cannot be
gained until the lower wisdom has been developed. It is to this task
that the basic training is directed. Before we can begin to grasp the
nature of Reality, which is transcendental, we must first grasp the
nature of the mundane, the phenomenal world as our senses present it to
us. This basically means knowing ourselves. Knowing ourselves means
facing our own insecurity. Recognizing the equal insecurity of others
is compassion.

Why do we feel so insecure? If we can answer this question, we are
on the right track. It is due to our recognition that all things are
transient. We seek to achieve a stability in the world which, by the
very nature of things, cannot be. But Buddhism teaches us more than
this: all things are not only transient, they are “empty.” This applies
to our precious selves as much as to anything else. Man, said the
Buddha, is a mere compound of five things, the five khandhas or
aggregates. He has a physical body, feelings, perceptions, emotional
reactions, and consciousness. None of these constitutes any sort of a
“self” which is permanent and unchanging, nor is there any such thing
outside of them. His consciousness is just a series of states of
awareness, conditioned by the other factors, reaching back into a
limitless past. All we are actually aware of is the present moment, or
rather consciousness is just that awareness. There is no separate entity behind it which is aware.
In the jargon of some modern philosophers, everything about man is
contingent or adjectival, not substantival. The further implications of
this must be left for study and meditation, but this is a fundamental
principle of all Buddhism. The search for a “self” behind all this is
futile. If you don’t believe this you can try to take up the Buddha’s
challenge and find it.

There may well be a strong feeling of resistance to the acceptance
of this point. If so, this feeling itself should be very carefully
examined. It is the basis of our habitual ego-reactions. We want
so badly to have a “self” and we expend a vast amount of energy in
trying to build one up and support it in every way we can think of.
That, fundamentally, is why we feel insecure in the world. One could
usefully devote a good deal of time meditating on this point alone.

The most notable contribution made to psychology by Alfred Adler was
his analysis of the inferiority complex. People who, for one reason or
another, feel inferior, says Adler, tend to over-compensate and present
an appearance of conceit and aggressiveness. Since Adler’s psychology
is very much one of social adaptation at not, perhaps, a very profound
level, he did not pursue this idea as far as he might have done. But as
far as it goes it is quite good Buddhism, though we might prefer to
rename his complex the “insecurity complex.” We might even go so far as
to say that for the Buddhist everybody’s ego practically consists of an
inferiority or insecurity complex, for such an assumption certainly
explains a great deal. Every form of ostentation we may indulge in is a
way of bolstering up the ego, whether in cruder or subtle form. The
large car which seems designed as wide as possible is as much an
example of ego-boosting as the padded shoulders worn by the tough:
indeed the resemblance is sometimes striking. Of course the
compensation for insecurity may take a reverse form of exaggerated
modesty and simpering sweetness, or of unnecessary and slightly
ostentatious self-sacrifice. This latter is a form of compensation we
may choose when all else fails, and it has the advantage of making us
feel very holy. Martyrdom is in fact the last consolation of a
disappointed ego. And the hallmark of a person who has really gone far
in the conquest of self is genuine unobtrusiveness.

The formula of Dependent Origination shows by selecting twelve
prominent factors how it is that we go round and round the weary circle
of rebirths, and how karma operates. It is not a simple formula of
“causation” but rather of conditioning. Ignorance (avijja) is a
necessary condition for our being here — hence if we were not ignorant
we would not have been reborn. And birth is a necessary condition for
death — if we had never been born we could not die. Thus, too, feeling
based on sense-impression is a necessary condition for the arising of
craving: if there were no such feeling there would be no craving. But
we can stop the craving from arising or at least prevent its developing
into grasping. This is the point at which karma comes into
play. Karma is volitional activity born of desire, and as such produces
pleasant or unpleasant results in the future. Whatever condition of
body and mind we happen to be in now is due to our past karma; it is vipaka or karma-resultant. In accordance with the vipaka
we are liable to act in the future, but if we have understanding we can
control our future actions, and thus their future effects.

The aim of Buddhist training, of whatever school, is to break away
from the cycle of becoming. This means somehow attaining the
Transcendental Reality which is not karma-bound and therefore
permanent, secure, and free from suffering. We do not, as unenlightened
individuals, know what this is: at best we have a vague intuition of
something wholly other. Its true nature is hidden from us by the veils
of our ignorance. The state of enlightenment is called Nirvana (Nibbana in Pali), which is, be it noted, selfless (anatta).
This means that we cannot grasp it as long as the self-concept (or
feeling) is operative. It is beyond the realm of duality, which is that
of subject and object, or self and other-than-self.

Probably most people have at times had a feeling while in the normal
sense “wide awake” as if really they were dreaming and would soon wake
up. This is actually quite true as far as the first part is concerned.
Life as we know it is in one sense a dream. The Buddha was the Awakened
One, and our normal state is perhaps somewhere about half-way between
ordinary sleep and true enlightenment, or wakefulness. We can therefore
usefully regard the Buddhist training, if we like, as a way of making
ourselves wake up. Sometimes in sleep we become aware of being asleep
and want to wake up. Eventually we succeed, but it is often a struggle.
The struggle to wake up to enlightenment is far greater than this,
because the resistance is stronger. The resistance is stronger for a
very simple reason: to the ego it seems like death. This is fair
enough, since in fact it is the death of ego. And since we have
no real experience of the egoless state, it is unimaginable and
therefore we are skeptical about it, but this skeptiscism too really
springs from fear. We should have to give up all our attachments to
attain it, and that is too hight a price to pay. We are like the rich
young man to whom Christ said “Sell all that thou hast and give it to
the poor.” He went sorrowfully away.

What then must we do, now that we have taken the first step and
embarked on the course of Buddhism? We need to have a chart and compass
to help us on our way. But first we have to know where we are supposed
to be going. The goal of Buddhism is Enlightenment or Awakening or
Nirvana, the Deathless State which is the end of all suffering and
frustration, the one permanent and supremely desirable thing. Buddhism
claims to be a way of attaining this. There are five factors to be
developed which, if they are predominant in our minds, will tend
increasingly to bring us to the goal. They are Faith, Energy,
Mindfulness, Concentration, and Wisdom. The first of these may come as
a surprise to some people. “I thought,” they may say, “you didn’t have
to have faith in Buddhism.” In fact faith is an important
factor to develop. We can call it confidence or trust if we prefer it.
But unless we have some confidence that there is such a goal as
Nirvana, we shall not even start taking Buddhism seriously at all, and
we need also to trust the Buddha as the teacher who has shown the way
to reach that goal. At the very least we need to be free from the sort
of nihilistic skepticism which is so common today and which prevents us
from believing wholeheartedly in anything worthwhile. When we
say “I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha” we are
expressing faith in the Teaching and the Order of monks who have
preserved it and handed it on.

If we have faith we next need to put forth effort, so we need
energy. Right Effort is a step of the Eightfold Path. It means getting
rid of wrong states of mind and developing right ones. Clearly a
certain amount of vigor is required to do this, and faith will
strengthen our will to persevere. Clearing up our mental muddle calls
for increased self-knowledge, and this is gained by Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is being aware of one’s own nature and observing one’s own
reactions, being fully cognizant of what one is about all the time. It
is developed by training, such exercises as mindfulness on breathing
and on walking being especially beneficial. With full mindfulness,
self-deception becomes impossible. It is the way of uncovering the
subterfuges of the ego. The Buddha described it as “the one and only
way” to the liberation of beings. It is an absolutely indispensable
factor in all Buddhist training. Being mindful one is, too, in some
degree automatically concentrated, but the practice of mental
concentration can be carried further, to samadhi, which is
mental one-pointedness. By a combination of these two factors, the mind
can be sharpened to an instrument capable of cutting through the veils
of ego-created illusion. The last of the five factors is Wisdom. Wisdom
in this connection means discernment. It includes investigation of all
mental phenomena to their essence, which is voidness. When this lower,
still mundane wisdom has been sufficiently developed, a basis has been
created for the arising of the higher Insight-Wisdom, the perfection of
which is Enlightenment. When this has been attained, the job is done.

But these factors must be developed in such a manner that they are
properly balanced. Faith must be balanced with Wisdom, and Energy with
Concentration. Faith without Wisdom can overreach itself and turn into
that kind of blind faith which Buddhism does not encourage. On the
other hand, Wisdom without Faith is sterile. Energy unaccompanied by
Concentration can easily lead to restlessness, while Concentration
without sufficient Energy leads to sloth. It is the function of
Mindfulness, by watching over the other factors, to see that the proper
balance between them is maintained. These five factors are called indriyas
or “ruling factors.” This means that they can and should dominate the
mind and give it direction. They are the five guides to keep us on the
way. Having taken the first step, and with these as guides, but
especially under the leadership of Mindfulness, let us walk on.

Detachment [go up]
by M.O’C. Walshe

One way of regarding the Buddhist training is to consider it under
the aspect of detachment. Detachment is one of those simple things
which we discover to be very profound and in its higher stages
intensely difficult. By becoming progressively more detached, one
gradually penetrates to the heart of Buddhism. Its importance is
repeatedly stressed under various aspects throughout the whole range of
the Buddhist scriptures. For instance, in the formula describing how
one enters the first jhana: “Detached from sensual objects, O monks, detached from unwholesome states of mind, the monk enters into first jhana which is accompanied by initial and sustained application (vitakka-vicara), is born of detachment (viveka) and filled with rapture and joy.” The second jhana
is then said to be “born of concentration.” We thus see that detachment
is a prerequisite for all concentration. The calm and concentrated mind
is the detached mind. While this is obvious enough when we stop to
think about it, it may help us to realize why it is that, even in
purely mundane matters, we so often fail to concentrate our minds. We
all know the picture of the man with furiously knitted brows and a wet
towel round his head, who is desperately trying to “concentrate” on
some problem. Of course, he usually fails. The reason, surely, is not
far to seek: he is going about it precisely the wrong way. He is not
detached. He is in fact very much attached. He may be detached
from sense-objects for the moment, but not from unwholesome states of
mind. His state of mind is probably dominated by uddhacca-kukkucca
“restlessness and worry,” and so long as this remains the case he will
probably get nowhere with his problem. His body too, reflecting this
mental tension, is probably tense and strained. He should first try to
relax, physically as well as mentally, and then he might make some

At this point perhaps we might pause to consider an objection which
is not infrequently made to the cultivation of detachment. There are
people who positively regard it as morally wrong to be detached. One
should not, they say, become detached and aloof from life, but should
be actively involved in it — engage as the French say. For
them, detachment is the equivalent of that opprobrious term we used to
hear so much about — “escapism.” Their argument is of course a very
simple one: there is so much evil in the world of one kind or another
that it is our job to go out and fight it. Now I am not going to argue
that such people — let us call them as a generic term crusaders as
opposed to introspectives — do not on occasion do a lot of good. A
society which has a few dedicated crusaders is certainly, in its
mundane way, healthier than one that discourages or represses their
activities. They often succeed in abolishing, or at least reducing,
much genuine evil. Let us take off our hats to them, and perhaps even
on occasion join or support them. But let us also consider their
position a little more closely. Why does the average “crusader” function as he does — irrespective of the particular cause he elects to take up? What really makes him tick? The answer to this question may put the whole matter in a rather different light.

Most of our crusader friends, whether they go in for party politics
or for other similar, perhaps semi-political causes they believe in,
are convinced that they do so out of love for their fellow-beings,
whether human or animal. In part, this is certainly true. They do,
passionately, want to help the poor, the sick, the oppressed, the
suffering. Yet in fact their motives are usually not quite as pure as
they themselves honestly believe them to be. The key to the situation
lies, I think, in the word “passionately.” They are under the sway of
emotions, not all of which are, in the Buddhist view, entirely healthy.
Conceit often plays a large if probably quite unconscious part. And
surprisingly often too they are really moved far more by hate than by
loving-kindness. Hatred, even of the oppressor or the criminal, is not
really the right motive because it is not grounded in the right view.

I am not seeking to disparage these people or belittle their
efforts, but merely to elucidate something of their attitude in the
context of my theme, which is detachment. So let us take a concrete
example: one where I was and remain wholeheartedly in agreement with
their aims. In Britain we have abolished capital punishment, rightly, I
believe, though the increase in crime in recent years has led to
demands for its reintroduction. Those who campaign for this even claim
to be in the majority, though I doubt if this is true, and I certainly
do not share their viewpoint. They too are “crusaders,” and their
reaction is certainly an emotional one. They really seek, without
knowing it, a “safe” or “legitimate” outlet for their own aggression.
These emotions are in turn rooted in their own basic feelings of
insecurity. The trouble is, of course, that such emotions as these (and
this is a comparatively mild example, in the world today!), when held
collectively are always much worse than when merely held by and
individual, not only on account of being multiplied, but because of
being at a more primitive level.

It is possible, though I hope and believe unlikely, that pressures
for the reintroduction of capital punishment in Britain will build up
again to a serious point. Should this be the case, those who wish to
oppose such a trend will need to be very careful indeed of their own
state of mind. They must not let themselves be trapped in an opposite
emotional reaction. They will need to find a way of reducing the
build-up of emotional tension so that in a calmer atmosphere wiser
counsels may have a chance to prevail. Emotional appeals would anyway,
in such a situation, probably be useless, since the stronger emotions
would be ranged on the other side. If you want, in fact, to abolish
capital punishment you must not want to hang the executioner.
Supporters of capital punishment often claim that its opponents show
too much sympathy for the murderer and not enough for his victim. It
does not seem too much to ask that a Buddhist — or a Christian — should
be able to feel compassion for both, and even for the hangman as well,
for he is certainly not creating much good karma for himself.

I am not at all arguing that a Buddhist should necessarily and
always stand aloof from such campaigns as the — now — rather
theoretical one mentioned. I am arguing that whatever he does
he should know his own true motives, his real emotional reasons for
either acting or not acting. I would also suggest that it is truly
necessary for society as a whole, as for the individual concerned, that
there should be those who in fact keep aloof from the current problems
that happen to agitate the world at any moment. It is not for our
crusading friends to disparage those who are genuinely detached. If the
crusader for, say, capital punishment is a victim of his own
unresolved aggression and insecurity, how often is not his opponent in
virtually the same case! A slight shift in viewpoint or circumstances,
and sometimes the roles are even reversed…

The reformer looks around him and sees something wrong in society.
This is usually not difficult, as there are plenty of things wrong with
most societies, and it may be almost a matter of chance what particular
evil or abuse he happens to pick on. What does he do then? He becomes
what is significantly called an agitator. Now you can only agitate
others if you yourself are agitated. What has really happened
to our would-be-reformer is that, his own emotions having been suitably
stirred up, he feels it his duty to go out and stir up the emotions of
other people. I know. I have gone through this phase myself. If you
suggest to him that he should first calm his own emotions he is
aggrieved, thereby developing some more agitation. He will probably
tell you that this is the easy way out, and he may even admit that in
any case he doesn’t know how to do it — thereby, incidentally,
contradicting the notion that it is “easy.” Of course, if you can get him that far it may be possible to indicate to him the contradiction involved. If he cannot help himself
to that extent, how can he expect to be able to help others? Even in
the field of Buddhism there are those who seem to think they can become
Bodhisattvas and “liberate all beings” without first liberating
themselves. They should take to heart the words of the great Zen
patriarch Hui-neng, who told his pupils “to deliver an infinite number
of sentient beings of our own mind.”

Let us leave world-problems now and turn to the problem of our own
minds. What is it that we have to get detached from? In a sense, of
course, it is from the outside world. That at least is how it seems to
us. Let us not get involved in a metaphysical discussion about whether
there really is an outside world or not. In point of fact, from
the standpoint of the Buddhist training it scarcely matters whether
there is or not! Perhaps we just project the whole thing from some
mysterious inner center. In any case, what we have to get rid of is our
excessive preoccupation with it — that is to say, with the things of
the senses. What actually happens is this: we have an unsatisfactory
feeling in the only place we can have it — within ourselves (whatever,
philosophically, that means). This feeling may take many forms, but
whatever its precise nature or mode of manifesting it is something
unpleasant, i.e., what in Buddhism is known as dukkha. It may
be quite vague in character, but we feel it somehow nevertheless. We
therefore look out into the world, either to see what it is, out there,
that is supposedly causing this dukkha, or to help us forget
it, by grasping at something which we assume to be pleasant. The result
in either case is not really very satisfying, because we are not even
looking in the right direction. Both the origin of dukkha and
ensuring its continuance. But creatures of habit as we are, we are
strongly conditioned to look outside, and indeed nature has equipped us
to looking outside with some remarkably efficient sense-organs for
doing so.

With our outward-turned senses we can do various things about the
world we see and hear, smell, taste, and touch. We can try to grasp
something outside and extract enjoyment from it. We can try to alter
what we see in some way to make it conform more to our idea of what it
ought to be like. Or we can vent our ill-temper on it in a fit of
destructiveness. There is a lot of this sort of senseless
destructiveness about nowadays. There always has been, really, but we
have now made it a special problem, the “problem of modern youth.” The
truth is simply that modern youth has in some ways rather more
opportunities for being destructive than is it used to have. This is
due in large measure to the nature and values of the society we live
in, a society which has developed more efficient means of destruction
than were ever dreamed of before. The fact that it has also developed
more wealth and therefore more means of apparent enjoyment, available
to more people than ever before, does not seem to have done very much
to reduce the general feeling of dissatisfaction each one of us has
deep down inside. All this, of course, goes a long way toward
confirming the Buddhist analysis of the situation, that the origin of
this is suffering, this dukkha, lies in craving. Our society is
built up all along the line. We accordingly have the simultaneous
picture of more and more people craving for more and more things, and
quite often getting them, and of both society and individuals showing
more and more taste for bigger and bigger forms of “motiveless”
destruction. Greed and hate, in fact, are perhaps more nakedly at work
in our society than ever before. That means that they are at work in
every one of us, and they can only be dealt with in and by each one of
us individually.

Greed and hate arise from ignorance: from not understanding, not
seeing the true situation as it really is. The individual is a
microcosm of society, and each one of us reflects this situation, in
some form, individually. Now it may be very dreadful, but so far nobody
has found a way whereby society can collectively overcome its ignorance
and set itself fundamentally to rights. Even the Buddha did not show a
method of bringing this about — and if he couldn’t find a way, it is unlikely that anybody else will… But for each individual there is a way:

Sabba papassa akaranam,kusalassa upasampadasacittapariyodapanam:etam Buddhanusasanam

‘Cease to do evil, learn to do good. Purify your own mind: that is
the teaching of all Buddhas.’ And one of the prerequisites of purifying
one’s own mind is the cultivation of detachment. If we ask “Detachment
from what?” — the answer is “from the five hindrances: sensual craving
and ill-will, sloth, restless worry and indecision.” These are things
we all know only too well, and though their final conquest is
difficult, they are things we can detach our minds from temporarily
with a little effort. The first two of these are obviously aspects of
greed and hate. Probably we can see that there is a need to cut these
down as much as possible. But if we fail to do so it may be at least in
part because one of the other three hindrances is preventing us: we may
be too indolent or too excited, or we may dither in a state of
indecision and doubt.

Now the trouble is that we may see quite clearly, in a way, that our
emotions of, say, greed or hate or fear are overmastering us and yet
feel quite unable to do anything about them. Then we probably dismiss
the whole problem with the words “Oh yes, that’s all very well, but I
just haven’t got the will-power.” In fact it is just here that the
value of detachment comes in. What we think of as failure of will-power
may really be much more a failure of technique. Let us take the case of
a man who, as he thinks and as others probably also think, cannot
control his temper. The deeper reasons for this may be various, but
they will probably include some strong form of frustration or
repression. It is not very difficult to see that the chances of gaining
control of any situation are likely to be increased the more one
understands the situation. Now what is called repression in psychology
is really a “thrusting away” — in other words it is basically a refusal
to see something, a form of deliberate (even though “unconscious”)
self-deception. In order to gain insight into the situation, we must
have some willingness to understand it. So we need to realize here,
right at the outset, that there is a form of clinging to ignorance. In
order to cope with this there must be a degree of detachment — we must
be able to regard the situation coolly and simply learn not to mind
too much whatever it is we may be about to discover. We must be
prepared to stop working on the old and foolish principle “Where
ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”

It is possible that even this much of the chain of events may be
fairly clear to us, and yet we may still not feel able to go any
further. Intellectual awareness of an emotional situation is not in
itself enough, though this does not mean it is of no use. It is just a
preliminary stage, and it should be strongly emphasized that progress
is in stages. The desire for perfection at a single jump is just
another obstacle born of impatience and conceit. It is not an “all-or
nothing” situation, but a case of “one step at a time.” Perhaps we have
already laid a certain foundation on which progress can be made, even
without realizing it. For the man who has said to himself “I haven’t
the will power to correct this fault” has at least made one vital
admission. He has in some measure accepted his own inadequacy — in fact
he is too much aware of this. He has to learn that what he
really lacks is not necessarily will-power as much as insight. The next
step, then, is merely and simply to recognize this fact. It will prove more helpful than may at first appear. For in fact seeing ourselves as we are is the cure.

The next step, then, is to find out why we do not already “see
ourselves as we are.” The answer is, of course, as already indicated,
that we don’t want to, that there is a clinging to ignorance. Why this
should be so is perhaps after all not hard to see. To the person with
normal eyesight, physical blindness is a terrible thing. We can only
too well imagine the feeling of helplessness and insecurity the blind
person must suffer from. It is therefore not at all nice to think that
though our physical eyes may be all right, we suffer from mental
blindness. So we prefer to be blind to the blindness. This is
attachment to ignorance with a vengeance. No wonder it is frustrating,
for it is a terrible strain to keep up. Most of our unhealthy emotions
are nothing but by-products of this tension, caused by deliberately
keeping our mental eyes tight shut while all the time pretending they
are wide open. Only the practice of mindfulness can help us here.

What is mindfulness? There are professing Buddhists who are
extremely vague about what mindfulness really is, and there are even
some who are so afraid of it that they go about telling themselves and
others that it is not really necessary. In principle, mindfulness is
quite simple. It is just detached watching. Watching one’s breathing is
a method that suits practically everybody. First of all it brings calm,
which enables one to watch one’s thoughts and emotions more easily, and
reduces the fear of what may come up — an important point sometimes. If
mindfulness is pursued for a while, some such experience as the
following may occur: a kind of “unreal” feeling may arise in which one
seems to be aware of various emotional states (perhaps self-pity,
anger, or the like) without being fully involved in them. One may start
thinking “Am I really having this emotion or not? Am I somehow putting
on an act?” What is really happening is that feelings are simply being
experienced with detachment. And in such a state one can allow many
things to come up to the surface which were previously repressed. But
being detached, one is not trapped by these emotional states and sees
them as mere effects of past conditioning. And in this way they can be
harmlessly dissolved.

The interesting thing is that, when such a situation is operative,
everything really seems to go on just as before, with only one slight
difference: “I” am not fully in the situation. There may be even a
distinct feeling of puzzlement as to precisely where “I” am anyway. Am
I, for instance, the emotion or the watcher? Or neither, or both? By
following up this particular clue we may find that the practice leads
us on further to a greater degree of understanding of the impersonality
of all things — of our own fundamental egolessness, in fact. The point
is here simply that by becoming calm and detached we have, so to speak,
“accepted the unacceptable.” As a result of this practice we shall find
a reduction in our own feeling of tension, greater calm and, most
probably, some increased insight into our own nature and the way things
really work.

We can now see the practical answer to our ill-tempered friend’s
problem. He cannot restrain his temper by will-power but by detached
mindfulness he can gradually dissolve it. And the same applies, of
course, to all our failings and weaknesses. But there is one form of
attachment we must guard especially against, because it makes the cure
much more difficult. This is conceit. We all have conceit, of course,
but if it is strong it is a particularly dangerous obstacle to
progress. Conceit is really attachment to a false picture of the ego.
Put negatively, it is a refusal to accept oneself as one is. It may
manifest in the feeling “I cannot possibly have these weaknesses,” or
“I have overcome these weaknesses.” Combined with, for instance, sexual
repression it may take the form of a sort of “purity complex”: “I am
above all these horrid feelings of sex, they no longer exist for me,”
and the like. Perhaps this particular complex has become less common
since greater openness on sexual matters has become usual. In any case,
it is clear that for a person who does have this kind of attitude the
development of true detachment, and hence mindfulness, will be
exceptionally difficult. We must not be ashamed to admit to ourselves (if not perhaps necessarily to others) that we possess our full share of all the normal human weaknesses.

At this point there comes an interesting and subtle twist. You may say “Yes, I suppose that’s true. But somehow there are a few things down there inside me which I just can’t
bring myself to face.” Now this is of course quite different from
denying that they are there at all. It means in fact that repression,
i.e., self-deception, has not been completely successful. Now
it may indeed be true that to face up fully to some of the contents of
one’s unconscious may be too hard to bear. It might be impossible to
maintain detachment. Emotional involvement and perhaps even quite
serious trouble might result. But there is still a way. What we can
do is to accept honestly that precise situation: “There is a dark
corner where I still dare not to look.” It is the mental equivalent of
saying “I have a sore place which I dare not touch.” The technique from
then on is basically the same as before, only at one remove. There is
just a secondary emotion of fear to be dissolved before the primary
situation which is the cause of that fear can be investigated. If that
secondary fear is treated with the detachment we have used on other and
less frightening emotions, it too can be dissolved. Later we may even
look back and wonder why it was that we ever feared to look in that
particular dark corner.

To sum up: detachment is not a kind of selfish flight from the
world, but the necessary precondition for coping with the world. It is
absolutely essential as a means of dealing with our own emotions. Nor
is it in any way incompatible with charity or compassion — as indeed
any doctor or nurse can tell you. It is no “escapism” as is sometimes
alleged, but its very opposite. The degree of physical detachment and
withdrawal which the individual undertakes may vary considerably —
obviously it will be much greater for the monk than for the average lay
person. There can be no successful higher meditation without detachment
from the things of the senses, and it is an essential ingredient of
Right Mindfulness. Incidentally it can even be quite fun. By being
detached we can observe ourselves with ironic amusement. By so doing we
may suddenly discover that some of the things about ourselves that we
took with deadly seriousness are in fact extremely funny. In that way
we may find that detachment actually enables us to enjoy our own dukkha!

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