The Quotable Thanissaro

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Wed May 03, 2017 4:51 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:The Buddha discovered that the way you attend to things is determined by what you see as important: the questions you bring to the practice, the problems you want the practice to solve. No act of attention is ever bare. If there were no problems in life you could open yourself up choicelessly to whatever came along. But the fact is there is a big problem smack dab in the middle of everything you do: the suffering that comes from acting in ignorance. This is why the Buddha doesn't tell you to view each moment with a beginner's eyes. You've got to keep the issue of suffering and its end always in mind.
From: Mindfulness Defined by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Wed May 03, 2017 11:44 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:When the Buddha talks about the causes of suffering, he doesn't trace it back to what you are. He doesn't say you suffer because you're basically bad, or because you're basically good but somehow have been socially conditioned to forget your true inner goodness. He comes back instead to what you do. That right there is a radical statement, and it opens huge possibilities. It's hard to change what you are, but you can change your actions simply through knowledge, through understanding which things you do are going to cause suffering, which states of mind lead to suffering. You can look for those and you can change them.
From: Not What You Are, What You Do by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Sat May 06, 2017 2:54 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Insight doesn’t come from being non-reactive, from simply by putting up with whatever is there. It comes from testing, experimenting. This is how we learn about the world to begin with. If we weren’t active creatures, we’d have no understanding of the world at all. Things would pass by, pass by, and we wouldn’t know how they were connected because we wouldn’t have any way of influencing them to see which effects came from changing which causes. It’s because we act in the world that we know about the world.
From: Mindfulness Defined (2006) by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Sun May 07, 2017 1:45 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Sometimes you hear the idea that when you meditate you’re supposed to practice radical acceptance, as if that’s what the path were all about. While you accept what’s actually going on, you’ve got to do a lot more. You’ve got to learn how to be skeptical about what’s going on as well. These stories that the mind tells itself: Why believe them? What do you gain by believing them? Are they really true? How much do you know about their truth? Even if they are true, are they really beneficial? You’ve got to have a certain skeptical ear as you listen to these thoughts, and a skeptical eye as you observe what they’re doing.

It’s only with this measure of skepticism that you can begin to recognize your defilements for what they are. The sense of being at ease in the body helps keep that skepticism from becoming bitter or cynical. Simply learn to put a question mark next to things. Is that really true? Is it really beneficial? Is this really the right time to be thinking that thing? Why should I believe that story if it makes me suffer? In this way, you learn how to free yourself from a lot of influences that otherwise would take over your mind and then stay there ensconced for days on end. This ability to be a little bit skeptical can keep you sane in the midst of all the insanity going on around us.
From: A Mind Like Wind by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Mon May 08, 2017 6:04 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:The Buddha didn't encourage his monks to take a vow of silence. There's a story in the Vinaya of a group of monks who began the Rains retreat with a vow: "Okay, we're not going to talk to each other. Each person just maintain silence throughout the Rains." At the end of the retreat they went to see the Buddha, very proud of the fact that they had succeeded in not talking to each other for the entire three months. But he didn't praise them. Instead he said, "You've been living like sheep, like dumb animals." This inner conversation doesn't become more skillful just by stopping your talking. To improve your inner conversation, you get a lot of help by learning good examples of outer conversation.
From: Inner Voice Lessons by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Tue May 09, 2017 4:22 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:There are times, for instance, when harsh speech is necessary. The Buddha gives an analogy: It’s like having a child, a young baby who still doesn’t know what to eat and what not to eat, and she’s put a sharp piece of glass in her mouth. You’ve got to do everything you can to get the glass out, even if means drawing blood, because if the baby swallows the glass, the damage will be even worse. In the Buddha’s case, he said harsh things about Devadatta, to his face: one, in hopes that Devadatta might come to his senses, and two, to warn all the other monks around that Devadatta had really gone off course.

Someone once called him on this, asking him, “Would the Buddha ever say anything harsh to anyone?” This was meant as a trick question, the idea being that if the Buddha said No, then they’d say, “What about what you said to Devadatta? That was harsh. It hurt Devadatta’s feelings.” And if the Buddha said Yes, he would say harsh things to other people, then they would say, “Well, what’s the difference between you and other ordinary people?”

So they put the question to the Buddha, but he replied that the question didn’t deserve a categorical answer; it deserved an analytical answer instead. There are times when, in deciding what to say, he would ask, first, is it true? If it wasn’t true, he wouldn’t say it. Second, is it beneficial? And if it’s one of those rare cases when saying something harsh would be beneficial, then the next one is, is this the right time and place for that? Only if he could say yes to all three questions would he say those things.
From: Right Speech: The Noble Eightfold Path: 13 Dhamma talks by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Wed May 10, 2017 11:34 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:One of the Buddha’s discoveries on the night of his awakening [is] that we do play a role in shaping our experience.

Sometimes you hear about how your experience is shaped by past kamma. But actually, it’s not just your past kamma. If it were just your past kamma, you’d be doomed. You wouldn’t be able to do anything about it right now. Whatever you’ve done is done and you’d just have to sit here and simply receive the results. But that’s not the way the Buddha taught. There are things you’re doing right now that shape how you choose out of your field of seeds and plants here. The image the Buddha gives to explain kamma is of a field filled with seeds and some of the seeds are ready to sprout. How you water them — in other words, what you do to them right now — will determine which seeds are going to sprout right now. So you do have a range of choices. And if you do this in ignorance, watering the wrong seeds, there’s going to be suffering. So bring knowledge to help you figure out: “Okay, this way of focusing on the breath; this way of thinking about the present moment; this way of thinking about what I’m doing is actually going to lead to good results.” If that’s the case, you foster that.

So to be mindful, to meditate, it’s not just a matter of just accepting what’s there. If you want to speak in the terms of acceptance, what you should be accepting is the fact that you’re playing a role in shaping this, so you want to shape it well.
From: Shaping the Present by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Thu May 11, 2017 1:44 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:One common misunderstanding is that the Buddha instituted rules to please lay people, so that whatever lay people want, the monks should oblige. That was not always the case. There are many cases where people wanted the monks to behave in a particular way, and the Buddha said No. When monks went out of their way to be smiley, friendly, and helpful to the lay people in ways the Buddha felt were inappropriate, he called it “corrupting families.” In other words, you corrupt them by giving them all the wrong ideas about the role of monks. So in spite of what the lay people wanted, the Buddha instituted rules against that sort of thing.
From: Multi-Dimensional Dhamma by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Fri May 12, 2017 7:10 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:So, when you're given a practice — whether it's the precepts, or the contemplations that the Buddha recommends — it's not that you're going into denial, pretending that you don't want to break a precept, or pretending that you don't harbor feelings of ill will. These contemplations are meant more to raise the issue: Do you really believe that your actions are important? Do you really believe that it's important to act skillfully? Do you believe that your thoughts are important, that it's important to think skillfully? Take some time to probe into those questions, because they're central to your life. And don't let yourself get sucked in by the media out there. They'd rather that you not ask those questions, that you lead a very short-sighted life, so you'll be content just to buy their things. So this is an act of resistance here.
From: Resistance by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Sat May 13, 2017 2:54 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:We can abandon unskillful qualities, blameworthy qualities, and we can develop skillful ones, blameless ones in their place. In other words, the teachings are all about things you can do. The Buddha doesn’t say: Be awakened. Or be free. He says, you do this and it will take you to awakening, it will take you to freedom. And he lays out the steps. The steps that are not necessarily easy, but they can be done. It’s important to notice that he focuses you on things that can be done. He doesn’t deal in vague abstractions. He doesn’t talk in general terms about awakening or emptiness or freedom. He says, “This is what you do. You can do this and it will make you see things more clearly. You can do this, and it will make you more free.”
From: What You Can Do by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Sun May 14, 2017 5:17 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:One [skill] is to make sure that your intention is skillful in what you do, say, and think. This is why we recite those passages on the brahma-viharas every evening. It’s not that we’re praying to some god to make these things happen, that everybody be happy. And it’s not that we believe that simply by wishing it, it’s going to be so. As the Buddha once said, if things could be made true simply by wishing and praying, there wouldn’t be any poor people, any sick people, any ill people in the world. Actually, the good things there are in the world are there because people have had good intentions and acted on those intentions.
From: Pissing on Palaces by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Tue May 16, 2017 5:47 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:People often believe that [when we meditate] we’re trying to learn how not to think, or trying to get the mind away from its conditioning simply by stopping any language from going through the mind. But the Buddha’s instructions on meditation involve a lot of thinking, training the mind to think in skillful ways. But unlike psychotherapy — which tries to trace your thoughts back to their origins, where they’re coming from in time — he focuses on where they’re going, where they lead. Do they lead you where you want to go? And he gives some recommendations on ways of thinking that really help you go in the right direction.
From: Resistance by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Wed May 17, 2017 2:00 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:....use your imagination here — not to wander away in fantasy worlds, but to explore some of the possibilities in the present moment. Try to think of some impossible ways of breathing and then try them — because you can learn a lot about your body that way: what’s really possible and what’s not. It’s like reading about quantum physics. Some of the things they’ve noticed in their experiments, as far as they can tell, can be explained only by allowing for the idea that certain particles go backwards in time. That explanation required a real leap of the imagination. There’s so much out there in the world that’s counter-intuitive. Your sense of the body here in the present moment has a lot of counter-intuitive potentials as well. If you only go with your normal intuition, that’s all you see: what you expect to see. See if you can surprise yourself with new ways of thinking about the breath.
From: Gladdening the Mind by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Wed May 17, 2017 11:37 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Sometimes you read that in the stages of insight you get into weird psychophysical experiences. Those descriptions are designed by people who are trying to sell a particular kind of meditation. You're going off to spend a week where you want to have something to show for it, something you can talk about when you return. It's hard to tell your friends, "You know, I maintained my mind in a state of normalcy for the entire week." It doesn't impress anybody. But you're not here to impress people; you're not here to impress yourself. You're here to see things clearly. The best way to see things clearly is to get the mind into a state of stillness.

We tend to think of the stages of jhana as very strong trance states, but actually they're the mind in a state of genuine normalcy where it's very perceptive, very clearly perceiving things as they are, as they come as they go, able to see distinctions. That's what we're working on, trying to keep the mind in a state of normalcy, as with all the elements of the path. The qualities of the path are things we've already experienced, things we've already tasted. It's simply that we haven't seen the strength they can develop if they're made continuous, if they're made all-around. This state of centered, clear normalcy in the mind, if you could really maintain it, would build up a lot of strength.
From: Normalcy by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Fri May 19, 2017 11:32 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:We rarely think of Buddhism as an emotional religion. Early Buddhism in particular is often depicted as centered more in the upper left quadrant of the head than in the heart. But if you look closely at the tradition, you’ll find that from the very beginning it has been fueled by a deeply felt emotional core.

Think back for a moment on the story of the young Prince Siddhartha and his first encounters with aging, illness, death, and a wandering forest contemplative. It’s one of the most accessible chapters in the Buddhist tradition, largely because of the direct, true-to-the-heart quality of the young prince’s emotions. He saw aging, illness, and death as an absolute terror, and pinned all his hopes on the contemplative forest life as his only escape. As Asvaghosa, the great Buddhist poet, depicts the story, the young prince had no lack of friends and family members to try to talk him out of those perceptions, and Asvaghosa was wise enough to show their life-affirming advice in a very appealing light. Still, the prince realized that if he were to give in to their advice, he would be betraying his heart. Only by remaining true to his honest emotions was he able to embark on the path that led away from the ordinary values of his society and toward an Awakening into what lay beyond the limitations of life and death.
From: Affirming the Truths of the Heart: The Buddhist Teachings on Samvega & Pasada, page 4 of Noble Strategy: Essays of the Buddhist Path by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Sat May 20, 2017 9:25 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:There are sensual pleasures that are innocent, that are harmless. Mahakassapa, who was one of the strictest of the Buddha’s monks, has verses talking about the beauties of nature, how much he enjoys getting out into the wilds. Apparently this is the first wilderness poetry in the world. And so even the strictest arahants have room in their practice for pleasures that are innocent. As he said, being in the forest refreshed him. And the mind does need refreshing. You’ve got to find ways of dealing with its moods without giving in to them, and realize that you don’t have to think in extremes. There are ways of enjoying some of the pleasures of the senses, because they gladden the mind.
From: Xtreme Drama by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Sun May 21, 2017 3:00 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:I once heard of a tennis pro whose game had gone into a slump. He tried everything he could imagine to get his game back: fired his trainer, got another trainer, tried different rackets. Then one day he realized he'd forgotten the number one lesson in tennis: Keep your eye on the ball. The same sort of thing often happens in meditation. You start out with a very simple process and then it gradually grows more complicated. After a while you forget the first principles: i.e., stay with your breath. So try to spend the whole hour staying with the breath, no matter what.
From: A Private Matter by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Sun May 21, 2017 8:56 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Sometimes you hear that the Buddha's teaching on not-self is a teaching on non-ego. This is actually a misunderstanding and it has two unfortunate consequences. The first is that, for those who like the idea of non-ego, it becomes an excuse for self-hatred and for the practice of spiritual bypassing. An example of spiritual bypassing is this: Suppose you have troubles in your life and you don't want to engage in the difficult business of trying to become more mature in dealing with others or negotiating the conflicting desires in your own mind. Instead, you simply go and meditate, you do prostrations, you do chanting, and you hope that those practices will magically make the problems in your life go away. This is called spiritual bypassing — an unskillful way of clinging to habits and practices. As you can imagine, it's not very healthy — and not very effective. People often come back from meditation retreats and they still have the same problems they had before.
From: The Ego on the Path Talk 5, Selves & Not-self: The Buddhist Teaching on Anatta by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Tue May 23, 2017 12:08 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:This is not to say the body’s a bad thing. After all, you’ve got to use the body for the practice. What you’re trying to cut through are all your unhealthy positive and negative images of your body. Unhealthy negative images center around the idea that, “It’s just me who’s ugly. My body’s not beautiful like all those other people I see in the media.” An unhealthy positive image is saying, “I’ve got this really cool body here. I’m pretty sharp. People find me attractive, so my body must make me better than other people.” Both of those are unhealthy because they lead to unhealthy mind states. A healthy positive image is that, “I’ve got a body that I can practice with.” A healthy negative image is one that says, “We’re all equal in terms of what we’ve got in our bodies and none of the parts are really all that attractive when you take them out. So the value of the body doesn’t lie in its appearance. It lies in what you do with it.”
From: Pleasant Practice, Painful Practice by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Tue May 23, 2017 11:40 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:We can’t wait until the world gets straightened out before we straighten out our own minds, because the cause is in the mind. The world out there is the realm of effects. The realm of causes is in here: That’s one of the basic lessons of dependent co-arising. All the causes of suffering come prior to your engagement with the world. If you want other people to change their behavior, you’ve got to straighten out your behavior. You have to walk your talk, so that your talk is compelling. You can’t force other people to follow your example, but at least you establish that example here in the world. It’s good to have these examples in the world. Otherwise the world would be a totally depressing place.
From: True Protection for the World by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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