Thursday, January 9, 2020

On retreat with Bhikkhu Bodhi (Day 2)

Editors, Wisdom Quarterly; Bhikkhu Bodhi (BAUS); Lankarama Buddhist Institute

The Lankarama Buddhist Institute gets crowded as Korean monks come to chant during the Bhikkhu Bodhi retreat for the evening Buddha Puja or devotional chanting service (Wisdom Quarterly).
Monks, nuns, laypeople, and onlookers (WQ)
On the first night, Tuesday (Jan. 7), it was a simple beginner's talk and guided loving-kindness (metta) visualization.

This was followed by the first full day (Jan. 8) carried out in earnest, a day full of sutra passages, deep explanations, and meditation sessions led by Bhikkhu Bodhi himself.

We read and looked closely at the Pali (the lingua franca of the Buddha's world, a sort of simplified Sanskrit not exclusive to the priestly caste Brahmins).

Pali is the only exclusively Buddhist language in the world, which has the fortunate effect of slowing the loss of the Dharma. It will be lost for a long time, and the world will grow dark again, no more knowing the Buddha's message. But not if Bhikkhu Bodhi can help it.

One of Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations: MN
He is the most prolific translator of the ancient texts into modern English. His scholarship is profound. Recordings of the proceedings, at least some of them, will be made available. In brief, we started by learning the biography of HOW Prince Siddhartha became enlightened.

It was not by abandoning his wife and sneaking out of the palace, the way we're taught. That, in fact, is the story of Vipassi Buddha, which took place 91 aeons ago, as recorded in the Mahapadana Sutta (DN 14). The commentary acts as if that popular story were about Shakyamuni, Gautama Buddha, the historical "Enlightened One" of our period.

With that clarification, many written accounts spoken by the Buddha himself were covered. Then it was on to the core of this course: The Four Noble Truths (the fourth being the Noble Eightfold Path).
  1. What does it mean to say the ennobling (enlightening) truth of dukkha (disappointment, suffering, woe, unsatisfactoriness, rebirth-aging-death, dissociation from the pleasing, association with the displeasing, in short, the Five Aggregates subject to clinging)?
  2. What does it mean to say the ennobling truth of the cause (samudaya) of dukkha?
Then three Vietnamese monks, whose temple was opened by the Dalai Lama, paid a visit and chanted a special incantation to bless us and prepare us for meditation. They were friends of Ven. Sumitta, the acting abbot, who knew them from the Buddhist University of the West. The question and answer period switched to written questions.

In on explanation, Bhikkhu Bodhi recounted how as a youth in New York he was extremely fond of jazz music and how he would want to buy albums at Sam Goody's but did not have the money to do so. He had to ask his parents for money and was rebuffed, and how even if he bought these albums, the songs and melodies wore thin with time. It was all wrapped up in disappointment/dukkha.

Mind (citta) "knows" in the heart.
Another explanation distinguished mind-consciousness from ear-consciousness. Ear consciousness, he explained, is the impingement of sound on the ear, and mind-consciousness is what makes sense of and labels what is being heard.

That was so funny!
He then hummed a long bar while moving his index finger like a maestro's wand and asked, "What is that?" Someone yelled out, "The jazz record you bought from Sam Goody's as a child?" and the whole room erupted in laughter, including Bhikkhu Bodhi.

He answered some more deep questions about the difference between "identity-view" (sakaya-ditthi) and "I-making" and the 20 ways the Five Aggregates are clung to as "self" (looking at the Khemaka Sutta), Buddhist cosmology, and the importance of not making too much of hair splitting: For every statement in the sutras, there are multiple explanations in the commentarial Abhidhamma (the "Dharma in Ultimate Terms") because thinkers of the past put forward their interpretations, arguments, and explanations, not always satisfactorily.

It was a good day, right? - We liked it.
For instance, are there Five Aggregates not subject to clinging, like those of an arhat (enlightened disciple)? It would seem obvious that for an arhat, the Five Aggregates are not clung to as self. But the commentary has a different explanation, a strange sophistry. It states that an arhat, in fact, is still lumbered with the Five Aggregates subject to clinging -- there being no such thing as "aggregates not subject to clinging" -- but in this case the clinging is done by others.

Then Bhikkhu Bodhi led us in a guided meditation on loving-kindness in various ways, ending with bows and socializing after 12.5 hours of continuous effort. If one could study this much, ask this much, and meditate more -- putting it all into action -- one would soon be enlightened. Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu.

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