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Buddha's Words (Talk 07 of 13)

By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | Nov 01, 2005
In topic: Early Buddhism
Seventh of Series of talks on the Pali Canon based on the book "In the Buddha's Words" by Bhikkhu Bodhi
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Buddha's Words (Talk 07 of 13)

By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | November 1, 2005

Transcribed by Murray McGillivray and abridged and edited by Barbara Byrum

 

 "Six Principles of Cordiality" is the title that Bhikkhu Bodhi gives this section from the Samagama Sutta:

Ananda, there are six principles of cordiality that create love and respect and conduce to cohesion, non-dispute, concord and unity. What are the six? Here a monk maintains bodily acts of lovingkindness, both in public and in private, toward his companions in the holy life. This is a principle of cordiality that creates love and respect and conduces to cohesion, nondispute, concord, and unity. The second, a monk maintains verbal acts of lovingkindness both in public and in private (and so forth). The third, a monk maintains mental acts both in public and in private (and so forth).

If there are acts of lovingkindness - offerings, bodily gestures, speech, and thoughts  for his or her companions - then that community will be a solid, happy, cordial community, full of love and respect.

Again, a monk enjoys things in common with his virtuous companions in the holy life. Without making reservations, he or she shares with them any righteous gain that has been obtained in a righteous way, including even the mere contents of the alms bowl.

In other words, sharing what you have materially with your companions in the dharma. This section is speaking about monastics who are living together and sharing everything in common.

Again a monk dwells in public or in private, possessing in common with his companions in the holy life those virtues that are unbroken, untorn, unblemished, unmottled, freeing, praised by the wise, ungrasped, leading to concentration. This too is a principle of cordiality that creates love and respect, and conduces to unity.

Again a monk dwells both in public and in private, possessing in common with his companions in the holy life that view that is noble and emancipating and leads the one who practices in accordance with it to the complete destruction of suffering. This too is a principle of cordiality that creates love and respect, and conduces to conhesion, to nondispute, to concord, and to unity.

Those are the six principles of cordiality. It's more than just politeness. First of all, is the idea that acts of lovingkindness be performed in relation to dharma friends both in public and in private with body, speech, and mind.  This means that we ought to be polite, of course, both publicly and privately-sometimes people are publicly polite but privately not or vice versa-so there's no difference, in other words, between our public conduct and our private conduct. But this also means that we cultivate our mind toward others. It's not enough to be polite and be kind and be nice, even both in public and private, but also inside of ourselves we actually have to work on a kind attitude and a kind feeling toward one another. So we're always working on our state of attitude and our heart just as much as we work on our outward words and deeds. Outward words and deeds alone won't do it.               

The last three factors are: we should share in material things, share in virtue, and share a view. So this is kind of interesting. How would we go about doing this? I mean, we can easily see how we would go about sharing materially, that's pretty clear. But how do you share virtues and a view? I think that the only way would be by practicing together, which would start with the intention to develop virtues within oneself. Then develop a strong view and understanding of why these things are important. Through honest discussion about how we live and how we see the world, we would share our virtues and our viewpoints with one another. In that way, we would, little by little, come to harmonize. We would teach each other how to develop virtues, and we would come to a unity of view through our mutual ongoing practice and our conversation.

These would be questions that we would be investigating: what are the virtues that we need for our life, and that I need for my life now? What is the view of life that I can live by? We would always be investigating those questions and sharing them together. Eventually, I think we would be in harmony with one another. Oddly, in the world at large such discussions are not at all encouraged-the opposite! It seems in the world at large one is discouraged from such conversations. It seems a little bit out of bounds in the social space in which we live. It makes people nervous when you talk about things like that.

This may be one reason why there's so much social strife and so much misunderstanding. People don't feel the permission to talk about these things. Buddha often talked about right speech, and one of the points that he makes about right speech is "avoid idle chatter." What is not idle chatter? Practically, from the Buddha's point of view, the only thing that is not idle chatter is to talk about the dharma. He thought that the monks should be sitting around talking about the dharma. Constantly, whenever they were talking, because this would condition their minds in a positive way; and this would attune them to each other, because the dharma militates against passionate arguments.

This is what we try to do in the dharma seminar, when I think about it. We try to share our virtues and our views for the purpose of harmonizing with one another. Also we are developing together virtues and views that will lead to less suffering. And I think that actually we do that. We have less suffering because of our interaction and our practice together.              

I would like to jump to chapter five, "The Way to a Fortunate Rebirth." This chapter has in it many suttas about Buddha's teaching of karma. We'll just read this first sutra that Bhikkhu Bodhi collects for us here.

There are, oh monks, four kinds of karma declared by me after I had realized them for myself by direct knowledge.

Remember on the Buddha's enlightenment night he saw the shape of karma - his  own karma and the karma of everyone. He had a direct knowledge, intuition, and insight about the nature of karma.

There is dark karma with dark results, there is bright karma with bright results, there is karma that is dark and bright with dark and bright results, and there is karma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright results, which leads to the destruction of karma. And what, monks, is dark karma with dark results? Here, monks, someone generates and afflictive volitional formation of body, speech, or mind.

So it's afflictive, meaning it's coming from the three poisons of greed, hate and delusion.  It's restless, nervous, and destructive. It's volitional; it's by choice; by decision; it's not involuntary. And it's a formation: an intention acted out.

Having done this, the person is then reborn in an afflictive world. The whole world, that's reborn in the next moment, or down the road because of that person's action, is afflictive. And when he is reborn in an afflictive world, afflictive contacts touch him. So that afflictive world impacts the person.

And being touched by afflictive contacts the person experiences afflictive feelings, extremely painful, just like being in hell and this is dark karma with dark results. And what is bright karma with bright results? Here, monks, someone generates a non-afflictive volitional formation of body, speech, or mind. Having done so, the person is reborn in a non-afflictive world, receives non-afflictive contacts, experiences non-afflictive feelings which are pleasant, as for example the devas of refulgent glory experience. This is bright karma with bright results.

And what, monks, is dark and bright karma with dark and bright results? Here someone generates both afflictive and non-afflictive (and so on and so on, the same thing is repeated only with both included). And what, monks, is karma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright results, which leads to the destruction of karma? The volition to abandon dark karma with dark results and to abandon the bright karma with bright results, and to abandon the dark and bright karma with dark and bright results. This is called the karma that is neither dark nor bright with neither dark nor bright results which leads to the destruction of karma. [So these are the four kinds of karma.]

I'll just make two points about karma that this text suggests. First, the definition of karma is volitional action. This means there are two sides to it, the volition and the action. So it's an action, an outward action, which includes physical action or speech. Speech is an action. It has powerful effects.

One thing is what we do, and the other thing is the quality of our mind, or of our intention. These two things are of equal importance. One is what you do, and the other is the cultivation of what's inside of you. It's not enough to do all kinds of good things, nor is it enough to have all kinds of good intentions. One has to do good and also be good inside.

Karma is volitional action, and so there's important work to be done with our attitudes and our feelings and our thoughts that shape us. That's a lot of what practice is about. It's a huge field of study and reflection that we get very little training in. In our educational system there's almost zero training in this kind of thing, and yet it's such a huge factor in our lives - in the world in which we live together.

The second point is that it's almost as if karma were a physical force, just like gravitational force. It's almost a physical force that goes in a certain direction and is guaranteed to produce certain results. Karma that's going in a positive direction will end up going in that direction, and karma that's going in a negative direction will end up going in that direction.

The fruit of karma, or the results of karma, are described in a very concrete way. As a result of our karma, we will literally encounter a world that is negative or positive, depending on the quality of our deeds and attitude. It's as if we create the world we live in. The force of our action and our intention actually produces the world that we're living in. So this means that there's tremendous power to our deeds and our attitudes. We think that the world is this thing, and our attitudes and deeds are incidental to it, details around the edges of it. But they're not incidental to the world. They actually produce the world we live in.

So in the passage that we just heard, there are four kinds of karma: dark, bright, both dark and bright, and neither dark nor bright. I think the dark and the bright are pretty straightforward and clear. In his commentary, Bhikkhu Bodhi says that when it says "both dark and light" karma, this means not that there's a kind of karma that's double, but rather that in a lifetime there are people who produce both bright and dark karma-like all of us.

The commentaries make it clear that there's no such thing as a mixed karma. But when I thought about this, I was not so convinced, despite what Bhikkhu Bodhi says. It may really be that there is grey karma, both good and bad, in the sense that good karma may include some attachment, and, therefore, some inherent difficulty. It may include some goodness of heart, even when it's bad karma; so someone who has bad intentions may actually have some goodness of heart. It may be that there is grey karma, and maybe we all do a certain amount of bright and dark and in-between karma. I don't know. I just offer that interpretation.

The last type of karma, of course, is karma that's beyond karma-nirvana.  Or as we might put it, this last type of karma is bodhisattva karma. Karma that is not really karma, but just like a dream or a light show or a fantasy - the free activity that we can do in this world that is inspired by love and beyond selfishness. This is bodhisattva karma or nirvana. Anyway, we always talk about karma, because it's related to all the topics we speak about, and we've talked about these things many times before.