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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 text see http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/thig/thig.13.01.than.html)

-- 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/~mpaw1235/id10.html)

-- 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.

Once we understand impermanence, just like Khema, a beauty queen who used to take great pride in her charming self, but realized impermanence when she witnessed the transformation of an angel through the ages created by the Buddha, we can then practice detachment.

On Feeling (vedena in Pali), there are three sensations: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. Our habit is to grasp happy things and reject unhappy/painful things. But pleasant sensations, though positive, are impermanent as well. Therefore Buddha taught us not to attach to either, but just be realistic. When a feeling surfaces, just let it rise, then let it stay a while, and then let it vanish.

Bhante then narrated a story of a man who after inviting the Buddha to dinner, blamed the Buddha for anything that went wrong at the dinner. But the Buddha just smiled at his tantrums. After the man had vented his anger, the Buddha asked, “what if there has been a last-minute cancellation of your dinner invitation, what would you do?” “I’ll enjoy the food,” said the man.

And that’s what the Buddha did. He ate the man’s bad words and his good food too. The moral of the story: do not react.

Bhante’s teacher once gave the following answer when posed the question: Why are you born? To die. Because while birth is uncertain, death is certain.

From discipline comes concentration, and wisdom ensues. One of our problems is not having enough discipline. There are various techniques to deal with a difficult situation (e.g., inter-personal friction) such as stay like a log, let it pass, read spiritual books, chant Amituofo, have compassion, say thank you.

A body has 32 parts. Next time when we are faced with an enemy, consumed with anger, just think about which part of the enemy that we are angry about. And our anger will subside.



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





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