The Quotable Thanissaro

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

Post by dhammapal » Sun Nov 27, 2016 10:28 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:People like to think of interconnectedness as light reflected in multiple mirrors, or light-beams going from one jewel to another in Indra’s net: each jewel illuminates and is reflected in the other jewels. These are all pretty images, but that’s not the way interconnectedness functions in the actual world. One animal feeds on another. One person feeds emotionally on somebody else.

When the early Buddhist texts teach causality to young novices, they start with a simple fact: All life depends on feeding. So interconnectedness is not simply light-beams going from one person to another. It’s a process of feeding — which is not always a pretty process.
From: Interconnectedness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Mon Nov 28, 2016 8:02 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:There were many cases in my time with Ajaan Fuang — and you read about other Thai ajaans saying the same thing — that people can have right views, but the way they hold on to them, the rightness is for the sake of wrongness.

You notice this in two ways. One is using the wrong teaching at the wrong time. There are teachings on not-self, and there are teachings on self. You have to know: When do you use teachings on self, and when do you use teachings on not-self? If you get very doctrinaire, the only real truth is the not-self. And that quickly turns into, “There is no self,” which raises all kinds of questions and all kinds of problems. The teachings were not meant to be problems; they were meant to be tools.

When you’re working on developing your mind, developing your actions so that they’re more skillful, who are you going to rely on? Well, you’ve got to rely on yourself. You gain examples from other people, but you realize that it’s really up to you. And at this point, the teaching on self is really useful. But when you find that you’re holding on to something that’s causing suffering, okay that’s the time to think about not-self — that whatever you’re holding on to is not really you or yours. That way, you get the proper use out of these teachings.
From: The Wrong Uses of Right by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Wed Nov 30, 2016 7:23 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Our idea of justice is based on the idea that there’s a beginning point to a story. From that point, you figure out who did what first, and then who did what second, and then at the end of the story you figure out how things should be apportioned in terms of guilt or lack of guilt, based on which actions were justified by what went before and which ones weren’t, so as to bring things into a proper balance.

But in the Buddha’s vision of time, there’s no beginning. As he said, you could trace back, back and back and back, and not find a conceivable beginning. The beginning point, he said, was inconceivable. Not just unknowable, inconceivable. You can’t even think it. And we’ve been through the ups and downs of time so many times, through so many universes, that, as he said, it’s hard to meet someone who hasn’t been your mother or your father or your brother or your sister or your son or your daughter in all that time. The stories are very long.

So if you’re going to start apportioning blame and trying bring things into balance, where do you start?

There’s a famous story concerning Somdet Toh. A young monk once came to him to complain that another monk had hit him, and Somdet Toh said, “Well, you hit him first.” The monk replied, “No, no, he just came up and hit me over the head and I hadn’t done anything at all.”
Somdet Toh said, “No, you hit him first.”

Back and forth like this for a while and then the young monk got upset and went to see another senior monk to complain about Somdet Toh. So the other senior monk came and asked Somdet Toh what was up, and Somdet Toh said, “Well obviously it’s his karma from some previous lifetime. He had hit the other monk first at some point in time.”

And of course that might have been after the other monk had hit the first monk first — so it goes back and forth, back and forth like this.

So when you see mistreatment around you, the first question isn’t “Is this just or unjust?” The question is, is the person dishing out the mistreatment behaving in a skillful way or unskillful way, and what can I do behaving skillfully to put a stop to unskillful behavior?
From: Justice vs. Skillfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Thu Dec 01, 2016 5:20 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:The Buddha allows for a certain amount of sensual pleasure on the path. He tells you look at your practice: If you see that when you indulge in certain pleasures it doesn’t harm the mind, then they’re okay. Some sensual pleasures, he says, are out of bounds. They can’t be skillful by any stretch of the imagination. But in other cases, it really depends on the individual: Some people find that they can meditate perfectly well in busy surroundings, whereas other people have to go off and live in the forest. Some people find that they can eat a nice moderate diet without any problem, while other people practically have to starve themselves. It’s really an individual matter. But even when you starve yourself, the Buddha doesn’t have you totally starve yourself. It simply means that you eat less than you normally might like — for, after all, the body does need food to keep going.
From: Chew Your Food Well by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Fri Dec 02, 2016 2:41 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Vipassana is not a meditation technique. It's a quality of mind — the ability to see events clearly in the present moment. Although mindfulness is helpful in fostering vipassana, it's not enough for developing vipassana to the point of total release. Other techniques and approaches are needed as well. In particular, vipassana needs to be teamed with samatha — the ability to settle the mind comfortably in the present — so as to master the attainment of strong states of absorption, or jhana. Based on this mastery, samatha and vipassana are then applied to a skillful program of questioning, called appropriate attention, directed at all experience: exploring events not in terms of me/not me, or being/not being, but in terms of the four noble truths. The meditator pursues this program until it leads to a fivefold understanding of all events: in terms of their arising, their passing away, their drawbacks, their allure, and the escape from them. Only then can the mind taste release.

This program for developing vipassana and samatha, in turn, needs the support of many other attitudes, mental qualities, and techniques of practice. This was why the Buddha taught it as part of a still larger program, including respect for the noble ones, mastery of all seven approaches for abandoning the mental fermentations, and all eight factors of the noble path. To take a reductionist approach to the practice can produce only reduced results, for meditation is a skill like carpentry, requiring a mastery of many tools in response to many different needs. To limit oneself to only one approach in meditation would be like trying to build a house when one's motivation is uncertain and one's tool box contains nothing but hammers.
From: One Tool Among Many: The Place of Vipassana in Buddhist Practice by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Sat Dec 03, 2016 1:51 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Researchers have done studies showing that people who regularly suppress their emotions tend to be stupider than people who don't. They're less observant and have trouble thinking through things clearly. And so the question is, when you're meditating are you making yourself stupid? It depends on how you meditate.

But first you have to understand what it means to suppress an emotion: You deny that it's there. In other words, suppressing it doesn't just mean that you're simply not expressing it; it means that you're also trying to hide it from yourself. The walls of denial go up in the mind. They make it difficult to think clearly, to connect things, to see relationships. And it takes a lot of energy to keep those walls up, which means you have less energy to observe things. This is why suppressing emotions makes you stupid.

So as you meditate, it's important to understand that you're not here to suppress an emotion, to deny that it exists. You want to be very clear about what's going on in the mind, but at the same time you want to learn how to use the mind wisely, to approach your emotions wisely. When fear, greed, anger, or delusion come up in the mind, it's not necessarily helpful to express them outside because sometimes that makes it difficult to observe what's going on, too. There has to be a middle way between the expression and the suppression. This is important. Often as you meditate you try to tell yourself, "Don't react. Just be equanimous. Don't get excited. Don't get worked up about things." And then you try to convince yourself that that's what's actually happening. You see ideals of what an enlightened person is like — very calm, peaceful, equanimous — and you try to clone the calm, to clone the equanimity. Remember, though, that Right Cloning is not one of the factors of the Path.
From: Suppressed Emotions by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Sat Dec 03, 2016 11:08 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:you need what the Buddha calls the four bases for success, the four qualities needed for success in any endeavor: the desire to do something; persistence, a really “stick with it” attitude; intentness, paying very careful attention to what you’re doing; and the powers of analysis coupled with ingenuity, teasing out the problem by coming up with and evaluating new solutions.

Try to see which qualities the mind lacks. Normally, one or two may be stronger than the others, but you need them all. If there’s no desire, you’ll think of something else while sitting. If you lack persistence or aren’t paying careful attention, the mind will slip way off without any idea of how it got there. If you have no way to figure out solutions to a problem, the mind gets stuck as well. So you need to bring all four of these qualities to your meditation.

In Thailand these four qualities are a common theme when discussing how to succeed at anything in life: wanting to do whatever is involved, sticking with whatever’s required, paying careful attention, and figuring out ways of continually doing it better. Similarly, meditation depends a lot on your willingness to apply these qualities. It’s not just a matter of receiving and following instructions, and then blaming the teacher if things don’t work. You take instructions, and if they don’t seem to work quite right, you ask yourself if you’ve misunderstood the instructions or if you’ve applied them improperly.

After all, the problem is in your own mind. Although there may be some imperfections in the instructions, where are you going to get perfect instructions in life? You take what you’ve got and you make the best use of it. You’re responsible for the meditation. As the Buddha said, he only points the way. Each person must do the actual work for him or herself. The Buddha didn’t cause our suffering, so he can’t remove our suffering. If someone else caused your suffering, that person would need to solve your problem. However, we’re each suffering because of our own ignorance, craving, and clinging. Fortunately, though, we also have good qualities to solve the problem inside.

So, bring your full attention to this and try to figure it out.
From: A Mind Like Earth by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Sun Dec 04, 2016 10:32 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:To bring a total end to the mind’s self-inflicted stress and suffering requires a great deal of dedication, training, and skill. But the meditation technique taught in this book doesn’t give its benefits only to people who are ready to follow it all the way to the total cure of awakening. Even if you simply want help in managing pain or finding a little more peace and stability in your life, meditation has plenty to offer you. It can also strengthen the mind to deal with many of the problems of day-to-day life, because it develops qualities like mindfulness, alertness, concentration, and discernment that are useful in all activities, at home, at work, or wherever you are. These qualities are also helpful in dealing with some of the larger, more difficult issues of life. Addiction, trauma, loss, disappointment, illness, aging, and even death are a lot easier to handle when the mind has developed the skills fostered by meditation.

So even if you don’t make it all the way to total freedom from stress and suffering, meditation can help you to handle your sufferings more skillfully — in other words, with less harm to yourself and the people around you. This, in itself, is a worthwhile use of your time. If you then decide to pursue the meditation further, to see if it really can lead to total freedom, so much the better.
From: With Each & Every Breath: A Guide to Meditation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Tue Dec 06, 2016 4:34 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:So reflect on the fact that all who are born into the human race have unskillful karma. There’s no need to wish ill on anyone, no matter what. The best you can do in difficult circumstances is to figure out the most skillful thing to do right now. You try not to give in to your emotions, not to give in to your fears, but to create within your mind as skillful a state as possible, as calm and steady and mindful a state as you can, and then offer that to other people. That’s one way of helping. And when the people are far away, it’s probably the best thing to do right now.
From: For the Good of the World by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Tue Dec 06, 2016 5:58 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:So it’s important to be clear on our assumptions as we meditate here. The idea that we’re simply going to watch things, and that objective truth is going to appear when we’re very non-interfering: You’ve got to call that into question, because the truth may be appearing, but how are you going to know what’s connected with what? After all, causation is the basic issue of right view. Right view is not about inconstancy, stress, not-self. Those are the three characteristics. Right view is about the four noble truths. You’re looking for the stress, trying to comprehend it, until you can understand the cause. When you see the cause, you abandon it. The causal connection is what’s important there. Similarly with the path: The path doesn’t cause the end of suffering but it takes you there.
From: The Science of Meditation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Wed Dec 07, 2016 9:45 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:The things that really pull you off the path are those that look good and promise a quicker gratification. But once you've got the results of the quick fix, many times you don't get any gratification at all — it was all an illusion. Or you get a little bit, but it wasn't worth it.

That's one of the reasons why the Buddha presents those strong images for the drawbacks of sensual pleasure. A drop of honey on a knife blade. A burning torch you're holding in front of you, upwind, as you're running. A little piece of flesh that a small bird has in its claws, while other, bigger birds are coming to steal it, and they're willing to kill the smaller bird if they don't get it.

These are pretty harsh images but they're harsh on purpose, for when the mind gets fixated on a sensual pleasure it doesn't want to listen to anybody. It's not going to be swayed by soft, gentle images. You have to keep reminding yourself in strong terms that if you really look at sensual pleasures, there's nothing much: no true gratification and a lot of true danger.
From: Vows by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Thu Dec 08, 2016 6:38 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Some people find the Buddha's precepts too hard to follow; other people say they're not inclusive enough. The ones who say that they're not inclusive enough insist that we have to be more responsible. If there's a precept against killing, you shouldn't be able to eat meat. If there's a precept against stealing, you shouldn't abuse the earth's resources. They make the precepts bigger and bigger and bigger all the time to the point where they become impossible, too big to be fully put into practice. Or in some cases it is possible to practice them fully, but the Buddha said it wasn't necessary to go that far. We're working on the precepts that help the mind get concentrated, which is why they go only as far as they do. In other words, you don't want to act on an unskillful intention and you don't want to tell other people to act on those intentions. But as far as breaches of the precepts where you don't know what's happening or it's not intentional, those don't count. After all, the intention is the important part of concentration, and you want to train the mind to master its intentions in areas where you have some control over your life and over your actions.
From: The Buddha's Shoulds by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Fri Dec 09, 2016 10:15 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:we have to reflect that we’re going to die, too. Where are you going to put your energy, where are you going to focus your time, however much time you have left? Because you don’t really know how much time you have. The Buddha says that the only people who are really heedful are the ones who say, “May I have one more in-and-out-breath. I’ll try to make the most of the practice for that amount of time.” If you stretch out the amount of time saying, “Well, may I have another day, another half-day,” then he says, “You’re heedless.”

The practice is something that has to be done with each in-and-out-breath. You have to be on top of your mind with each in-and-out-breath, because if you’re caught by death in a moment of heedlessness, it’s really hard to gather all your forces together at that last out-breath, scrambling around when you suddenly have to go. So try to be prepared.
From: Inconstant, Stressful, Not-self by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Sun Dec 11, 2016 3:43 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:So the teachings related to past and future — particularly the teachings on karma — are designed to bring you back into the present moment and to give you an understanding of why you're here. You're not just hanging out in the present moment because it's a wonderful place to stay. You're not here passively; you're actually doing something here all the time. And what you're doing is important.

So you want to do something skillful. The Buddha talks about Right Effort: the things you should abandon, the things you should prevent, the things you should give rise to, the things you should maintain and develop.
From: Of Past & Future by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Mon Dec 12, 2016 12:37 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:When you hear the word “fundamentalist,” it usually has a bad connotation: people who are very narrow minded, stuck in old-fashioned views, and willing to kill other people who don’t agree with their views. But if the fundamentals are good, then fundamentalism isn’t bad. And in the Buddhist teaching, the fundamentals are very good. That’s why it’s good to stick with them.

The Buddha himself said that he didn’t approve of any changes in his Dhamma. He had learned a skill, he wanted to pass that skill on, and he did everything he could to make sure that it was passed on intact.
From: Good Fundamentals by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Mon Dec 12, 2016 11:12 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:There was an article recently in Tricycle where a psychologist was arguing that the true Buddhist attitude toward craving is that craving or desire is really a problem only if you want the objects of your craving to be total, to be with you forever. As long as you're realistic and realize that nothing lasts forever, he said, then desire is no problem. Just learn not to cling to the object of your desire. Just be content with being with the desire itself.

That's his idea of being realistic, and of course that has nothing to do with what the Buddha taught. As the Buddha taught, it's not so much that we cling to the objects of our desire, we cling to the desire itself, we crave desire itself. It's something we enjoy. And if desire without latching on to the expectation of permanent objects for the desire were okay, then why is there so much trouble from sexual predators or war mongers who don't really care to hold on to their conquests but want to keep going on for more and more and more? They like the process. They like the thrill of the chase. And this is the real problem with human desire. In its quest for "enough" in terms of the things of the world, it never can find satisfaction, so it always keeps wanting more and more. In this way it wrecks the world, and also wrecks the mind.

So we have to find something that will put the mind in a state where it doesn't need to desire anything anymore. Part of this quest means learning to temper your desires, but it also means refocusing them. Instead of having scattered desires for all things in all different directions, you focus it on one big desire: the desire for total freedom. Now, what's radical about the Buddha's teachings is that that desire is realistic, too — that desire for total freedom, ultimate happiness.
From: Culture Shock by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Tue Dec 13, 2016 7:28 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Sometimes you hear it said that when you meditate you’re not supposed to have any sense of gaining or getting anything out of the meditation. But that teaching is simply an antidote the impatience we normally bring to the meditation. You do a little bit of meditation and you want to get lots and lots of results right away. So you’ve got to learn how to put that attitude out of your mind. But, still, there are returns, there are benefits that come from meditation. And it is an investment — an investment in something reliable: these qualities of mind. They stay with you whether the economy goes up, whether the economy goes down. And whether the body gets healthier, gets sick, or when it dies, the qualities you’ve invested in will stay with the mind.

And so, given the fact we have a limited amount of time, a limited amount of energy, we want to make sure that we invest our time and energy in the most reliable things. If you invest in your attachments, you’ll find that they give you some support for a certain amount of time, and then they start changing on you. As the Buddha said, everything fabricated — which means everything put together by causes — is inconstant. When you find yourself latching on to something inconstant, it can give you support only as long as it lasts, and then it’s going to change. Even good qualities of the mind are inconstant, but the more you invest in them, the longer their impact, the longer their ability to support you, all the way through the process of aging, all the way through the process of illness, all the way through the process of death. These things stay there. And they can help you.
From: The Buddha's Investment Strategy by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Thu Dec 15, 2016 4:27 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:A third principle applies to the question of whether the person who’s suffering “deserves” your compassion. Because no human being has a totally pure karmic past, if you make a person’s purity the basis for extending your compassion, there will be no one to whom you can extend it.

Some people resist the idea that, for example, children born into a warzone, suffering from brutality and starvation, are there for a karmic reason. It seems heartless, they say, to attribute these sufferings to kamma from past lives. The only heartlessness here, though, is the insistence that people are worthy of compassion only if they are innocent of any wrongdoing. Actually, people who are doing wrong are just as deserving of our compassion as those who are being wronged. There’s no need to like or admire the people for whom you feel compassion. All you have to do is wish for them to be happy. Then you do what you can to alleviate the suffering that comes from past mistakes and to stop the mistaken behavior that causes suffering now and into the future. The more you can develop this attitude toward people you know have misbehaved or are misbehaving, the more you’ll be able to trust your intentions in any situation.
From: The Sublime Attitudes: A Study Guide on the Brahmaviharas by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Fri Dec 16, 2016 12:53 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:Sometimes mindfulness is translated as non-reactive awareness, free from agendas, simply present with whatever arises, but the formula for satipatthana doesn't support that translation. Non-reactive awareness is actually part of equanimity, one of many qualities fostered in the course of satipatthana, but the ardency involved in satipatthana definitely has an agenda, a task to be done, while the role of mindfulness is to keep your task in mind.

The task here is twofold: staying focused on your frame of reference, and putting aside any greed and distress that would result from shifting your frame of reference back to the world. This is the meaning of "the body in and of itself." In other words, you try to stay with the experience of the body as it's immediately felt, without referring it to the narratives and views that make up your sense of the world. You stay away from stories of how you have related to your body in the past and how you hope to relate to it in the future. You drop any concern for how your body fits into the world in terms of its beauty, agility, or strength. You simply tune into the body on its own terms — the direct experience of its breathing, its movements, its postures, its elementary properties, and its inevitable decay. In this way you learn how to strip away your assumptions about what does or doesn't lie behind your experience of the body, and gain practice in referring everything to the experience itself.
From: The Agendas of Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Post by dhammapal » Sat Dec 17, 2016 1:02 pm

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:We primarily think of meditation in terms of developing mindfulness and alertness and other good qualities as we sit here and do formal meditation, but it applies to all areas where you see that your mind needs to train itself in noble qualities — in your thoughts and your words and your deeds.

So when we say, “May I be happy; may all living beings be happy,” it’s not that we’re hoping for everyone to sit around surrounded by nice sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations. Basically it means that we hope that they do good, because that’s where the happiness lies.
From: The Meaning of Happiness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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