The Quotable Thanissaro

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

Post by dhammapal » Sun Aug 06, 2017 11:38 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:And then there’s mindfulness: What things can you keep in mind right now that are healing to the mind? Sometimes simply reflecting on the body: If you start thinking about your emotions about this person or that person or this issue or that issue, it gets you all riled up. Just say, “I’m sitting here with a body breathing, that’s all I have to think about. That’s the range of my awareness right now: being with a body in and of itself and trying to make the sensation of being with a body as pleasant as possible.” Just keep that in mind. This is what mindfulness means: keeping something in mind. You keep the body in mind. You put aside greed and distress with reference to the world. Any world issues, you just put them aside right now. You don’t have to go there.
From: The Wounded Warrior by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Sat Aug 12, 2017 9:30 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Killing is never skillful. Stealing, lying, and everything else in the first list are never skillful. When asked if there was anything whose killing he approved of, the Buddha answered that there was only one thing: anger. In no recorded instance did he approve of killing any living being at all. When one of his monks went to an executioner and told the man to kill his victims compassionately, with one blow, rather than torturing them, the Buddha expelled the monk from the Sangha, on the grounds that even the recommendation to kill compassionately is still a recommendation to kill — something he would never condone. If a monk was physically attacked, the Buddha allowed him to strike back in self-defense, but never with the intention to kill.
From: Getting the Message by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Fri Aug 18, 2017 5:33 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:What you desire in life is very important, and the realization that it’s important is an essential part of wisdom. All too often we hear that we shouldn’t desire anything, that we should learn how to just stop wanting. But as Ajaan Maha Boowa points out, the only people who have no wants at all are those who are dead. Even arahants have preferences. They would prefer to see people reach the end of suffering just like themselves. They would prefer to see people not harm one another. Of course their happiness doesn’t depend on it. That’s why they’re free. But the fact that they’re free doesn’t mean that they lack compassion or discernment or powers of judgment.
From: The Wisdom of Ardency by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Sat Aug 26, 2017 7:55 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:When the Buddha talks about ignorance, he's not talking about a general lack of knowledge about things. You can know many things and still be ignorant of the big issue. And part of that ignorance comes from the fact that you don't really regard the big issue as the big issue. You've got other priorities, other agendas.

But the Buddha wants you to see that the question of suffering is the big issue in life. Your ability to train yourself to put an end to it should be your top priority.

When I was up in Bellingham this last weekend, I was out walking after the meal. A guy looked at me and asked, "Buddhist?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Why are there so many religions in the world?" I answered, "Because the different religions ask different questions." "So what's the Buddha's question?" "His question is: 'Why are we suffering and what can we do to put an end to it?'" "Don't you just hate that question?" he said. I said, "No, I think it's a pretty good question."

The fact that there's suffering is something you might not like, and it's natural not to like it, but it would be strange to hate the question of why it happens and how you can put an end to it. We should regard this as the most important question to try to answer because it's the most useful, most fruitful question we can explore. It's a privilege to be able to ask this question and answer it. That's why one of the duties with regard to the four noble truths is to develop the path, the way out of suffering. This is what we're doing here right now.
From: Establishing Priorities by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Sat Sep 02, 2017 3:02 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:I was asked to give a talk on the topic of whether it really is necessary to know anything about what the Buddha said if you’re going to meditate. Now, if you think of mindfulness simply as being aware, there’s not that much that you would need to study. Your awareness is right here, it’s happening all the time, so what else do you need to know? But when you realize that mindfulness means keeping something in mind, you realize further that you need to study some to know what things are the right things to keep in mind while you practice. Sometimes this involves keeping in mind your motivation: why you’re here. Sometimes it involves keeping the four noble truths in mind: remembering that we’re here to look for stress, its cause, its cessation, or the path to its cessation....
From: The Message of Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Tue Sep 05, 2017 5:18 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:[The Buddha] would engage specific individuals in discussion only if he respected their ability to conduct a fair discussion. As Ven. Sariputta commented, some questioners are sincere, whereas others ask questions with evil or contemptuous motives [AN5:165]. Thus only when a listener was truthful and sincere in his or her search for truth would the Buddha be willing to join in a discussion. This means that even when he was aggressive and cutting in arguing with his listeners, it was not a sign of disrespect [MN35, MN93]. The fact that he was willing to speak with them in the first place showed that he respected their intentions and compassionately wanted to help them understand the error of their views.
From: Skill in Questions: How the Buddha Taught by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Fri Sep 08, 2017 2:08 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:The teaching on karma starts with the principle that people experience happiness and sorrow based on their intentions, both past and present. This is because our experience of the present moment is composed of three things: 1) the results of past intentions; 2) present intentions; and 3) the results of present intentions. The results register in terms of pleasure or pain, happiness or sorrow. The intentions both past and present are the causes. Those are the factors you need to master. If we act with unskillful intentions either for ourselves or for others, we’re going to suffer. If we act with skillful intentions, we’ll experience happiness. So if we want to experience happiness, we have to train our intentions to always be skillful.
From: Head & Heart Together: Bringing Wisdom to the Brahmaviharas by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Wed Sep 13, 2017 4:06 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Right mindfulness is a faculty of the active memory, and not a practice of open, non-reactive, radical acceptance of experiences as they arise and pass away of their own accord in the present moment. Some proponents of mindfulness as non-reactive acceptance have acknowledged that the Buddha defined mindfulness as a faculty of the memory, but then claim that he actually used the term in an entirely different sense — as bare attention, or non-reactive acceptance — when describing mindfulness practice. However, when we examine his instructions for mindfulness practice in context, we find that the function of right mindfulness throughout the practice is to remember the right principles to apply in shaping the present moment. In fact, instead of simply allowing things to arise and pass away, one of the prime duties of right mindfulness is to remember to make skillful dhammas (actions, events, mental qualities) arise and to keep them from passing away, at the same time making unskillful dhammas pass away and preventing them from arising again (AN4:245). Acceptance plays a role in mindfulness practice only in the preliminary sense of being truthful to yourself about what’s actually arising in your awareness so that you can be ardent most effectively in shaping the present moment in the most skillful way.
From: On the Path: An Anthology on the Noble Eightfold Path drawn from the Pali Canon by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Fri Sep 15, 2017 11:10 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:The concept of merit is widely misunderstood in the West. It’s often seen as the selfish quest for your own well-being. Actually, though, the actions that qualify as meritorious are the Buddha’s preliminary answer to the set of questions that he says lie at the basis of wisdom: “What is skillful? What is blameless? What, when I do it, will lead to long-term welfare and happiness?” If you search for happiness by means of the three types of meritorious action — generosity, virtue, and the development of universal goodwill — it’s hard to see how that happiness could be branded as selfish. These are the actions that, through their inherent goodness, make human society livable.

And the Buddha never imposed even these actions on anyone as commands or obligations. When asked where a gift should be given, instead of saying, “To Buddhists,” he said, “Wherever the mind feels confidence” (SN3:24). Similarly with virtue: Dhamma teachers have frequently noted, with approval, that the Buddha’s precepts are not commandments. They’re training rules that people can undertake voluntarily. As for the practice of universal goodwill, that’s a private matter that can’t be forced on anyone at all. To be genuine, it has to come voluntarily from the heart. The only “should” lying behind the Buddha’s teachings on merit is a conditional one: If you want true happiness, this is what you should do. Not because the Buddha said so, but simply because this is how cause and effect work in the world.
From: Wisdom over Justice by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Sun Sep 17, 2017 11:43 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:There are so many voices in the world telling us that our actions aren’t important: politicians who say that they don’t care about what people think, that they’re just going to do what they want to do; scientists who tell us that nothing we can do can change the general course of nature. Then there’s cosmological time, geological time, in which our efforts seem to be very puny and insignificant. But the teaching on kamma reminds us that cosmological time may apply to the world out there, but the world of your lived experience is shaped by your actions, and this is the world that matters. And it’s because it matters that we want to develop these skills, however much time it may take, however much patience it may require. These are skills that are worth mastering even if you don’t get all the way to the end of the path in this lifetime. Whatever progress you do make on the path means that much less suffering, that much more skill in how you relate to the things that would normally cause you to suffer or would normally bring about reactions that would make you suffer. So a lot of the practice lies in the attitude, the right attitude that underlies all the other right factors of the path.
From: Respect, Confidence & Patience by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Mon Sep 18, 2017 12:49 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:If you find that your mind has slipped off the breath, you bring it right back. You don't let it dawdle here or sniff at the flowers there. You've got work to do and you want to get it done as quickly, as thoroughly, as possible. You have to maintain that kind of attitude. As the Buddha said, it's like realizing that your head is on fire. You put it out as fast as possible. The issues we're dealing with are serious issues, urgent issues: aging, illness, and death. They're like fires burning away inside us. So you have to maintain that sense of ardency because you never know when these fires are going to flare up. You want to be as prepared as possible, as quickly as possible. So when the mind wanders off, be ardent in bringing it back.
From: The How & the Why by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Fri Sep 22, 2017 12:00 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Notice, in the definition of mindfulness, the importance of the words “recollecting” and “remembering.” The Buddha wants you to practice mindfulness as a faculty of the memory. He doesn’t define mindfulness as full awareness. He prefers that you have focused awareness. You’re here not just to be here in the present moment. You’re here in the present moment because there’s work to be done: You’re causing yourself suffering and you want to learn how to stop.

This fact is shown by a passage where the Buddha compares mindfulness to a person putting out a fire on his head or his turban. If your head is on fire, you don’t just sit there and watch it [AN10:51]. You have to do what you can to put the fire out as quickly as possible.

Also, the Buddha doesn’t define mindfulness as bare attention. In fact, the Buddha doesn’t have any teachings about bare attention at all. Instead, he talks about appropriate attention. For him, attention is a matter of the questions you bring to the present moment. And your first order of business is to figure out what the skillful questions would be. For him, the questions are: “What is skillful? What is not skillful? How do you develop what is skillful? How do you abandon what is unskillful?” To remember these questions, and to bring them to bear on what you’re doing right now, is to be mindful. In fact, by keeping these questions in mind, you turn mindfulness into right mindfulness.

One of the Buddha’s most basic definitions of the function of right mindfulness is simply remembering that you have to develop the right factors of the path, from right view through to right concentration, and to abandon the unskillful or wrong factors of the path, from wrong view through wrong concentration [MN117].
From: The Karma of Mindfulness: The Buddha's Teachings on Sati & Kamma by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Wed Sep 27, 2017 10:41 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:There is a rule Ajaan Fuang once gave, which is that if somebody has gotten really deluded in their meditation, and you’re not that person’s teacher, you don’t talk to them about it. Don’t try to criticize them or point out the fallacies in their meditation, because that would just make them even more defensive. A lot of conceit can build up around this. So there are those areas you just leave alone. But with yourself, you should be a lot more frank about where your friendship with your various ideas and attachments really is leading you. But learn how to do it in a way that shows that you’re operating with the mind’s best interest at heart.
From: Right Speech by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Thu Sep 28, 2017 1:36 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Ajaan Fuang once made the observation that when there’s a sensual pleasure we really aspire to, it’s a sign that we had it in the past, and we miss it — the past here being the past either in this lifetime or in a previous lifetime. He added that if you think about this for a minute, you give rise to a sense of dismay. You realize that you just keep going back for the same things and then you finally get them and then you’re going to lose them again, and then you’re going to miss them again. Then you’re going to struggle to get them again, and again, and again. There’s no end to that. There’s only an again and an again and an again, and it’s really depressing. Whereas there’s a way out if you find the joy that comes from letting go, from developing the path.
From: Feelings of Grief & Joy by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Mon Oct 02, 2017 9:13 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Although [the Kālāma Sutta] is often cited as the Buddha’s carte blanche for following one’s own sense of right and wrong, it actually sets a standard much more rigorous than that. Traditions are not to be followed simply because they are traditions. Reports (such as historical accounts or news) are not to be followed simply because the source seems reliable. One’s own preferences are not to be followed simply because they seem logical or resonate with one’s feelings. Instead, any view or belief must be tested by the results it yields when put into practice; and — to guard against the possibility of any bias or limitations in one’s understanding of those results — they must further be checked against the experience of people who are observant and wise. The ability to question and test one’s beliefs in an appropriate way is called appropriate attention. The ability to recognize and chose wise people as mentors is called having admirable friends. According to Iti 16–17, these are, respectively, the most important internal and external factors for attaining the goal of the practice. For further thoughts on how to test a belief in practice, see MN 60, MN 61, MN 95, AN 7:80, and AN 8:53. For thoughts on how to judge whether another person is wise, see MN 110, AN 4:192, and AN 8:54.
From: Kālāma Sutta: To the Kālāmas, Translator's Introduction by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Tue Oct 03, 2017 6:31 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Focus your attention on the positive things that could be done with the little amount of time you might have. And this doesn’t have to be just the little amount of time before death. It can also be the little amount of time you have where you’ve stopped at a stop light, taken a small break at work, when you’re waiting in a doctor’s office, when you’re waiting for the meditation session to begin. It seems like just a little bit of time, but often with little bits of time like that we tend to kill them. “Well, there’s nothing much I can do now, so I might as well just relax for a bit,” or whatever. But actually there’s a lot that can be done in a little bits of time.
From: The Positive Side of Heedfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Thu Oct 05, 2017 10:22 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:When I first went to stay with Ajaan Fuang, one of the questions I asked him was, "What do you need to believe in order to meditate?" He answered that there was only one thing: the principle of kamma. Now when we hear the word "kamma," we usually think, "kamma-and-rebirth," but he meant specifically the principle of action: that what you do shapes your experience. If you're convinced of this, you can do the meditation because, after all, the meditation is a doing. You're not just sitting here, biding your time, waiting for the accident of Awakening to happen. Even in very still states of meditation, there's an activity going on. Even the act of "being the knowing" is still a doing. It's a fabrication, a sankhara.
From: Tuning-in to the Breath by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Fri Oct 06, 2017 11:01 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Mindfulness of death. As the passages collected here show, the Buddha taught this topic not to induce a feeling of depression or hopelessness, or a sense of sentimental nostalgia for the beauties of the world. He taught it to encourage heedfulness, a sense that a great deal needs to be done in training the mind, and that not much time remains to do it. Thus mindfulness of death fosters an appreciation of what human life offers the opportunity to do. What is valuable about life is not the pleasures that can be experienced, but the skillful mental qualities that can be developed. Death is not the end, but a transition, and the transition will be easy or difficult depending on the qualities one has built into one's mind. Because there is no way of knowing when death will come, one should focus each day on which skillful qualities of mind most need developing, and which unskillful ones most need abandoning. Mindfulness of death is thus an excellent practice for ordering one's priorities. As AN6:19, AN6:20, SN3:25 and MN131 point out, today may be one's last day in this life. What remains to be done? Some ideas are offered by AN4:184, which point out the mental traits that lead one to fear death, and SN44:9 and Snp5:15, which point out the traits by which death leads to rebirth. If one focuses on lessening and eradicating these traits, one's mindfulness of death can actually lead to the deathless.
From: A Meditator's Tools: A Study Guide on the Ten Recollections by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Sat Oct 07, 2017 4:50 am

Question: Did your interest [in Buddhism] grow at Oberlin?

Thanissaro Bhikkhu: During my sophomore year, during Oberlin's very first winter term, Don Swearer, a professor of religion, brought in a monk from Japan and a monk from Thailand to teach meditation. I signed up immediately. I remember thinking, "This is a really cool skill. You sit down and breathe, and you come up an hour later a much better person." That's what I liked about meditation from the beginning: learning how to bring your mind under control and find happiness inside.
From: Being A Monk: A Conversation with Thanissaro Bhikkhu by Rich Orloff '73, Oberlin College Alumni Magazine Spring 2004

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Mon Oct 09, 2017 5:04 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:The high value that the Buddha placed on shame contrasts sharply with the way it’s regarded in many segments of our culture today. In business and in politics, shame is all too often viewed as weakness. Among therapists, it’s commonly seen as pathological — an unhealthy low opinion of yourself that prevents you from being all that you can. Book after book gives counsel on how to overcome feelings of shame and to affirm feelings of self-worth in their place.

It’s easy to understand this general reaction against shame. The emotion of shame — the sense that you don’t look good in the eyes of others — is a powerful one. It’s where we allow the opinion of other people into our psyches, and all too often unscrupulous people take advantage of that opening to trample our hearts: to bully us and force on us standards of judgment that are not in our genuine best interests. It’s bad enough when they try to make us ashamed of things over which we have little or no control: race, appearance, age, gender, sexual orientation, level of intelligence, or financial status. It’s even worse when they try to shame us into doing harm, like avenging old wrongs.

But efforts to avoid these problems by totally abolishing shame miss an important point: There are two kinds of shame — the unhealthy shame that’s the opposite of self-esteem, and the healthy shame that’s the opposite of shamelessness. This second kind of shame is the shame that the Buddha calls a bright guardian and a treasure. If, in our zeal to get rid of the first kind of shame, we also get rid of the second, we’ll create a society of sociopaths who care nothing for other people’s opinions of right or wrong — or who feel shame about all the wrong things. Businessmen and politicians who see no shame in lying, for instance, feel shame if they’re not at least as ruthless as their peers. And for all the general dismissal of shame, advertisers still find that shame over your body or ostensible wealth is a powerful tool for selling products. When all shame gets pathologized, it goes underground in the mind, where people can’t think clearly about it, and then sends out tentacles that spread harm all around us.

This is where the Buddha’s teachings on healthy shame can be a useful antidote, helping to bring the topic into the open and to show that, with proper training, shame can be a great force for good.
From: In the Eyes of the Wise: The Buddha’s Teachings on Honor & Shame by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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