Enter the ‘Buddhist Lab’ of meditation

Medin Full Moon Poya Day falls today

by damith
March 24, 2024 1:05 am 0 comment 408 views

By Samangie Wettimuny

Following are excerpts from an interview with Theravada Bhikkhu Ven. Ajahn Suchart Abhijato Maha Thera of Thailand. The Maha Thera is well known across the globe for his effective Dhamma teaching methods and meditation practice.

Q: Are there any references in the Buddha’s teachings regarding whether daughters are born to parents who have violated the Fourth Precept?

A: I have not heard of it. Anyway, I cannot say whether he said so or not since there are so many Suttas in the Tipitaka. But it is not relevant. It is not really important. What is important to become enlightened is not whether you are a man or a woman, but whether you can follow the Noble Eightfold Path or not.

Q: Did the Buddha directly express any views on the comparative worth of being born as a man vs. being born as a woman?

Ven. Ajahn Suchart Abhijato Maha Thera

Ven. Ajahn Suchart Abhijato Maha Thera

A: I am not sure whether the Buddha said anything about this. But generally, it is believed that to become enlightened, it is much better to be born as a man than a woman because to become enlightened you have to live a life of a recluse. You have to live in the wild. And for a woman to live alone in the wild would be nearly impossible.

Q: Certain Bhikkhus frequently emphasise the importance of being born as a man, thus demeaning female birth. They argue that being born female is inferior to being male. However, is it appropriate for a Bhikkhu to emphasise one’s gender when it poses no barrier to entering the Noble Path?

A: Well, I of course would not emphasise on sex/gender or anything like that because what is important to become enlightened is not whether you are a man or woman. What is important is your ability to follow the Noble Eightfold Path. That is the practice that will make you become enlightened. What matters is your ability to practise the Noble Eightfold path. If you can follow the Path regardless of who you are -whether you are a man or woman, Bhikkhu or nun, young or old – you will be able to become enlightened. You have to follow the Noble Eightfold Path completely.

Q: Despite the complexities of our technologically advanced world, many individuals display a strong desire to attain Sotapanna status within this lifetime. They earnestly cultivate Seela, Samadhi, and Pragna to the best of their abilities. However, a significant number seem to falter or abandon their efforts halfway through. Could you elaborate on how one can effectively face this challenge and carry on the path towards Sotapanna?

A: On the Path you need to have patience, diligence, and exertion. You need to keep pushing yourself and endure through any difficulty or hardship. If you have these qualities then you will eventually become enlightened. You have to keep pushing your practice. Never give up. Whether it is easy or difficult, you keep doing it. You have to be patient. You have to be enduring. You will also have to develop mindfulness and wisdom. These qualities are also called the Five Faculties. If these Five Faculties are developed you will be able to become enlightened. To repeat the five faculties; 1) You have to have faith in the Buddha’s teachings, 2)You need to be diligent and exert effort,3) You have to have mindfulness 4) You have to have Samadi or Jana, 5) and You need to develop wisdom. Then, if you possess all of these qualities, you may eventually attain enlightenment.

Q: In Buddhism, realms are often depicted as different states of existence that beings can inhabit based on their karma, or the consequences of their actions. I have read that there are 31 realms of existence into which beings can be reborn during their long stay in Samsara. Some beings may be reborn in the Brahma or Deva realms. Where are the Brahma and Deva realms located?

A: They are in the mind of each individual. They come about by their actions. To be able to become a Deva you have to be generous. You have to give a lot of Danas, and also keep the Five Precepts. This is the prerequisite for becoming a Deva. And to become a Brahma you need to practise meditation and be able to enter into Jana

Q: Where exactly are Deva and Brahma realms situated?

A: We call this a spiritual realm. All of us, even the humans, even the minds of humans like us also exist in the spiritual realms. We do not exist in the physical realm. In the Physical realm, it is only the body that exists. Anything physical is in the physical realm, anything that is mental or spiritual exists in the spiritual realm. This realm is divided according to the level of our happiness or suffering.

Q: Sri Lanka, despite being predominantly a Buddhist nation, some Buddhists visit Kovils and offer lavish gifts to deities such as fruit baskets, or even gold statues seeking their blessings. Is it not wiser to prioritise bestowing merit on gods through virtuous deeds rather than adhering to such practices?

A: Well, the Path to Enlightenment also requires you to do charity work. You have to do Dana, you have to practise morality (be virtuous). And then you have to practise meditation. These are the three steps that lead to enlightenment.

Q: Should Buddhists go to Kovils at all?

A: Well, in Buddhism we do not believe in praying or getting benefits from gods. The Buddha said we have to benefit ourselves through our own actions. So if you go to pay respect or do merit with gods, then you are not relying on yourself and it will not lead you to enlightenment.

So as a Buddhist, you need not go to such places unless you are required to do so. Based on your social status sometimes you might have to join such activities. Then you can do that. It is not because you want to benefit from this action spiritually, but because it is a requirement.

If you want to benefit spiritually from your actions, then you should do Dana or Charity, keep the Precept of morality (Seela), and practise meditation (Bhavana.) These are the three actions that will benefit you spiritually, not others.

Q: Of the Five Precepts, refraining from telling lies is commonly seen as the most difficult. How can one abstain from telling even a small lie?

A: Do not say anything. Shut up!

Q: Why I am so specific about this is that sometimes we have to abstain from telling the truth to save certain relationships, maintain peace at home and office. Should we always tell the truth at any cost?

A: We do not have to tell the truth if you think it will cost you something. You just stay quiet. Do not say anything.

Q: If a male is interested in entering the Buddhist Order he can become a Bhikkhu. But for a female, who has similar interests, it is not possible to become a Bhikkhuni as the Bhikkhuni Order does not exist any longer. Cannot the veteran Male Bhikkhus in Buddhist countries take the initiative to set up the Bhikkhuni Order again?

A: Unfortunately it is not possible because these guidelines have been laid down by the Buddha himself and we cannot reinitiate the Bhikkhuni Ordination.

In order to ordain a Bhikkhuni, you need the Bhikkhuni Sangha to do it along with the Bhikkhu Sangha. Without the Bhikkhuni Sangha, we cannot do the Bhikkhuni Ordination anymore.

Q: A non-Buddhist friend of mine once raised a concern about Buddhism’s emphasis on the negative aspect of life and its focus on the Asuba (nature) of the body. The person concerned asked me how Buddhists stay focused and happy when the religion treats the body as impure in the first place. In reply I said the Buddhist focus is not on the ‘Asuba’ aspect of life, but the reality of it where uncertainty is unavoidable. What else can we add to address their concern?

A: Buddhism teaches many different things, not just ‘asupa.’ It is just one of the things that we need to study if we want to skip sexual intercourse. If we seek to maintain celibacy, we must find ways to stop our minds from desiring sexual intercourse, and practising Asupa meditation can serve this purpose.

So it is usually for Bhikkhus or people who keep the Eight Precepts.

But people who do not keep the Eight Precepts and who are not Bhikkhus or nuns do not need to study the Asupa at all.

Q: Can a Sotapanna get angry? Can he lose his temper for the slightest thing?

A: Yes, it is only an arhant who does not get angry. The other three levels – Sotapanna, Sakadagami, or Anagami persons can still get angry as there is still ‘self’ in them. Still, there are cravings in their minds and you still have conceit. You still think you are better than somebody else. And if somebody contradicts you can get angry with that person.

Q: An elderly Buddhist told me that as a scientist he does not believe in rebirth. His argument is that he does not believe in anything that cannot be tested in a lab. How can I help him understand the Buddhist concept better?

A: He says so because he has not reached ‘the Buddhist lab’ yet! In Buddhism, we also have a laboratory to prove our theory and our laboratory is our meditation practice. When you meditate and when you enter into Jana, then you can see the separation of the mind from the body.

Q: How does Buddhist counseling differ from Western Psychotherapy?

A: Well, Buddhism teaches the truth. Our depression, our suffering, our stress, and our anxiety all come from our defilements – our greed, hatred, and delusion and if we can get rid of greed, hatred, and delusion, then there will be no mental problems.

Q: Some Buddhists are very critical of certain Bhikkhus claiming that they prioritise seeking donations rather than teaching their devotees the Dhamma. Is it acceptable to criticise Bhikkhus in any circumstance?

A: First, it is good to know whether they are good Bhikkhus or bad Bhikkhus . But it is not good to criticise anybody.

Q: So is it acceptable not to offer them alms/make donations if they are not virtuous?

A: It is true. If you are sure that they are bad Bhikkhus, then you should not support them. You can individually choose which are good ones and bad ones and you should go for good Bhikkhus for support, for teaching. You don’t need to go to the Bhikkhus who do not teach you the Dhamma but keep asking for money/donations instead.

Q: Even if we are interested in leading a monastic life, we cannot do it due to obligations and family commitments. So would you advise us to follow the Five Precepts while also practising Dana (charity) Dana, Seela (morality), and basic meditation for the time being and go for deep meditation later? Maybe when we are much older.

A: The older you become, the harder it is for you to practise. The older you become the harder for you to learn old tricks, like it is hard to teach old dogs new tricks. It is better to do it when you are young. In Thailand, we recommend that if people want to go on the spiritual path they should start at the age of 20. We recommend them to become a Bhikkhu at the age of 20. It is easier to teach when you are younger, because it is easier to teach new tricks to the young than the older.

Q: We cannot practise those while we are at home. We have to go to the monastery and do it. Right?

A: It is like treating yourself when you are sick at home and treating yourself when you are sick at the hospital. Which is better?

Q: Can we go to a monastery for a while, develop our minds, and then come back to lead a lay life?

A: Usually if you are here (monastery) you do not want to go back to lead a lay life. And only when you are not here that you still want to go back!

– Ven. Ajahn Suchart Abhijato Maha Thera was born on November 2, 1947. Having completed his degree in Civil Engineering at California State University, Fresno, USA, he returned to his motherland where he designed an ice cream parlour for a brief stint.

Quite soon, inspired by a Dhamma book, he decided to go in search of “true happiness,” to find inner peace through the practice of Buddhist meditation. He became a bhikkhu at the age of 27 and received ordination at Wat Bovornives in Bangkok on February 19, 1975, with Somdet Phra Ñanasarivara, the late Supreme Patriarch (Somdet Phra Sangharaja), as his Preceptor.

Ven. Ajahn Suchart Abhijato Maha Thera resides in Wat Yansangwararam, Thailand.

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