Special occasion: House dana in Mrs Long Heng Hua’s house to commemorate her husband’s death anniversary.
Today’s talk is based on the following question put forward by Mrs Long’s daughter: What are destructive emotions and what should we do about them?
To answer this let us look at a verse in the scriptures which embodies the basic principles of Buddhism:
Purify the mind.
People might argue over what is good and what is evil, but all spiritual systems agree on the extremes of good and evil. For example, killing, stealing, adultery and lying are generally regarded by all as evil. In Buddhism, all physical, verbal and mental behaviour that is motivated by greed, hatred and delusion is evil, defined from an ultimate point of view. All physical, verbal and mental behaviour that is not motivated by greed, hatred or delusion is good.
- Greed is the usual rendering of the Pali word ‘lobha’ for which there is no exact term in English. So for want of a better word, ‘greed’ is used, but with a special meaning not found in an ordinary dictionary. It has a wider connotation than wanting more than what one needs. It covers a spectrum of emotions ranging from subtle liking for say, a cup of coffee at the lower end of the spectrum, to extreme lust at the other end. In between these two extreme ends are different degrees of lobha. All behaviour rooted in attachment is included in lobha.
- Hatred is the usual rendering of the Pali word ‘dosa’. Like lobha, this also covers a wide spectrum of emotions ranging from subtle dislike to intense hatred and anger. This emotion is more easily recognised because it is accompanied by feelings of displeasure. In contrast, lobha can be accompanied by pleasurable or neutral feelings.
- Delusion is the usual rendering of the Pali word ‘moha’. It is the delusion caused by ignorance of the true nature of reality. This is something difficult for one to recognise as the true nature of reality can only be seen through meditation.
To do good is to practise the antitheses of greed and anger— to practise non-greed and non-anger.
- Non-greed is giving, which is the direct opposite of wanting. It is the cardinal virtue of all religions. Today’s dana is the giving of food, the most basic form of giving. We can also give money, clothes, shelter, and skills. Giving is motivated by non-attachment.
- Non-anger is the practice of loving-kindness and forgiveness. It is unconditional acceptance and forgiveness of and consideration for others; it is giving without expecting something in return. Buddha likened it to the love of a mother for her child, without the attachment. Such practice is important as it helps to foster good relationships among people.
Purify the mind
Non-delusion is all verbal, physical and mental activity that is motivated by wisdom that arises through meditation. It refers to firsthand experiential knowledge that one experiences in an intuitive way through the process of meditation and not to wisdom in the worldly sense.
The mind is purified through wisdom, i.e. direct experiential knowledge gained during meditation. Meditation can be effective if one purifies one’s mind. Then one will cultivate good and has less evil thoughts and emotions. Emotions which are excessive and obsessive causes one to use all means to satisfy desires even to the extent of harming others.
Nowadays, meditation is becoming popular in the West. Research has proven that meditation is beneficial as it trains the mind to be attentive in a positive way. During meditation, the body is stilled and the mind is tranquillised. In this state the mind drops all projections and thinking and goes back to nature, relieving the mind of stress.
The stress reduction value of meditation is in keeping with the belief that the life force known as prana or qi in one’s body must be allowed to circulate freely. Any impediment to its flow will result in illness. Tranquillising the mind helps to remove blockage to the smooth flow of this life force. Modern medicine now recognises the power of such psychosomatic healing.
There are 2 types of meditation:
- Samatha Meditation
This is tranquillity meditation in which one concentrates on a single object to the exclusion of everything else. An example is transcendental meditation which is now popular in the West. The object of concentration can be a mantra. When one is able to concentrate, one feels rapture, calm, happiness and peace. This is good for those suffering from stress. The mind is thus tranquillised during meditation. After that the mind is clearer, the senses are heightened and one can get insights into how to solve problems.
- Vipassana Meditation
This is also known as awareness meditation. You do not focus on a single object but rather train the mind to do multitasking and be aware of whatever objects that impinge on the senses. You become an objective observer researching into what you are. You then find the so-called ‘you’ is made up of thoughts that come and go on their own.
What is the purpose of doing vipassana meditation and how does it help you in your life?
When you see thoughts rise and pass away because of conditions and not because they can be controlled, then you are less attached to them. You realise that everyone is the same. You feel a sense of oneness with, and loving kindness for, all. You learn to accept others as they are because they are like you — a bunch of defilements, ever-changing.
You can learn to watch your thoughts and emotions and they will disappear. For example, when you are angry and you focus your mind on that which is making you angry, you get angrier. However, by watching the emotion, anger, you can control it and the anger will disappear. In this way you become a better person, a more responsible member of society.
Hierarchy of Karmic Results of Giving
As monks we do not earn our own living and as such depend on our supporters for material support. In return we share our knowledge with them. We also practise meditation and observe our precepts.
Someone once asked the Buddha whether it was true that only offerings to him and his disciples would bear fruits. The Buddha replied that a person can acquire merits if he washes his bowl and pours the remains in it into a pond with the thought that some living being can make use of the remains.
There is the story of a man who established alms centres at the 4 main gates of his city, giving without discrimination. He made this offering everyday for many years. The Buddha told his disciples that this type of offering is less meritorious than that of offering dana to one who is spiritually attained.
More meritorious than this is to give residence to the Sangha. Surpassing this in merits is to take refuge in The Triple Gem — to look upon the Buddha’s teachings and his disciples as the way to liberation from the endless rounds of birth and death. Even better than this is the observance of the five precepts. Loving kindness occupies the next rung of this merit ladder — to practise loving kindness for the length of time that one needs to snap one’s fingers surpasses that of observing the 5 precepts. Finally, meditation is at the topmost rung.
So we see that dana is at one end of the spectrum of meritorious deeds and meditation is at the other end, in ascending order of karmic rewards. Buddhism appeals to all types of people and can be practised at different levels.
It is a custom of Buddhists to share the merits they have earned after performing good deeds. This is also considered as an act of giving. Rejoicing in others’ merits also brings merits. Thus being wholeheartedly happy for other people’s success is meritorious.
Today, you have offered us food; we have shared the Dhamma with you; you have listened to the Dhamma. All these are acts of merits. Now we can share these merits with all present, seen and unseen.