A Discussion with Bhante Dhammawansha
Fifth Session of the Middle Way Buddhist Association, June 16, 2007
Bhante Dhammawansha (center).
Notes on discussion with Bhante Dhammawansa at Middle Way Buddhist Association meeting, June 16 2007.
-- Buddha said that if we can understand impermanence, we can understand everything.
-- This can be seen in the Five Aggregates (skandhas (Sanskrit) or khandhas (Pali)): form, feeling, perception, volitions, and consciousness.
-- We become stressed because of the aggregates.
-- Form is known as "rupa": The physical body.
-- We think "my body". We become attached to it. More attachment makes for more suffering.
-- But the body is not a possession. If I borrow something, it doesn't belong to me.
-- In Buddhist tradition, the body has 32 parts. Which ones are 'me'?
-- Form is impermanent.
-- Meditation on the skeleton or dead body. Traditionally, in graveyards or charnal grounds.
-- At Bhante's monastery in Sri Lanka, there are displays of a crushed body (a monk that was crushed by an elephant), and pictures of dead bodies.
-- Even the most beautiful body looks gross if you remove its skin.
-- Examples of stories of the Buddha:
-- Ambapali was a wealthy prostitute who became a follower of the Buddha, and donated a famed mango grove. She wrote a poem about how age affected her once beautiful body. An excerpt:
Like a delicate peak, my nose was splendid in the prime of my youth.
With age, it's like a long pepper.
The truth of the Truth-speaker's words doesn't change.
(for the complete
-- In another
traditional story, the Buddha demonstrated impermanence to the beautiful
Queen Khema by creating a vision of a most beautiful maiden who slowly
aged and decomposed before her eyes. (http://home.earthlink.net/
-- Feeling is known as "vedana". It can be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.
-- Pleasant and unpleasant are illusions, impermanent. In meditation, we see feelings arise and vanish.
-- We can become bored with even the most pleasant things.
-- Equanimity is the goal: to be able to let go of pleasant and unpleasant feelings (not worry about them); to be able to accept and observe without clinging.
-- If we do not accept negative emotions (if we are in denial), we become more unhappy.
Comment: By actively rejecting unpleasant feelings they are made longer.
Bhante: We need the courage to let go of both pleasant and unpleasant feelings.
-- If someone is blaming you or does unpleasant things, thank them as a teacher.
Question: What can Buddhism do for people who are mentally ill?
Bhante: Meditation; understanding impermanence. For example, a young man came to Bhante's meditation group. For 2 years he participated without talking. Eventually he told Bhante that he had had anxiety, hatred and fear, but that meditation had helped him greatly.
Question: What if you have a partner who is very negative?
Bhante: Try to help them. It is better to help them than to abandon them. Try to be a positive example to them.
Question: What if someone is always criticizing?
Bhante: Say thank you, or don't speak out. Don't show anger. There are various ways to reduce anger inside, such as meditation, distraction, concentrating on tasks.
-- Discipline brings concentration; concentration brings wisdom.
Question: What if you want to see them?
Bhante: Have compassion, then let go.
Comment: If I choose not to react, they are a teacher. But sometimes a student is not ready for a teacher.
Bhante: People who blame and criticize have a sickness. If you react the same way, you also get the sickness.
-- If you have an enemy, think of the person's 32 parts and ask yourself "what part am I angry with?"
Comment: Bad behavior has a cause. You can ask yourself, "how can I help this person?"
Comment: Example of a parent with Alzheimer's: need to avoid the illusion that you can change them; just accept.
Question: Many Buddhists in America are psychologists. Is that also true in Sri Lanka?
Bhante: There are many fewer there. Many psychologists have personal problems. But how can you help others with their problems if you can't help yourself? You don't need wisdom or mental health to get a PhD.
-- Buddhism goes beyond psychology, beyond philosophy to dealing with the real cause of much of our suffering: trying to cling to the illusion of the ego.
Comment: Sometimes what really helps people is compassionate listening.
The following are notes from Say Lee's Blog on this session:
Bhante commenced the wisdom session by
introducing the Five Aggregates (skandhas): form, feeling, perception,
volition (another term that has been used is mental formation), and
consciousness. Form (rupa in Pali; incidentally this has the same
spelling and meaning in the Malaysian language, and this is not the
first such link that I’ve come across) refers to the physical body and
environment, and has the distinguishing feature of being constantly
changing, i.e., impermanent. But often times we cannot see nor feel
these changes taking place, and become attached to form and its various
manifestations: I, me, my, mine, etc. Our failure to detach from form is
a cause of suffering as clinging to and grasping form makes our
existence a painful and stressful one.
1) Bhante will be leading a half day, retreat on Saturday, June 30.
2) The website of Bhante's group (Dhamma Wheel Meditation Society) is www.dwms.org