Published on Jan 18, 2013
This is the Dharma talk that Thay offered for the Winter Retreat Series on January 3rd, 2013; this lecture is in English.
Mettā (Pali) or maitrī (Sanskrit) means benevolence, loving-kindness, friendliness, amity, friendship, good will,kindness, and active interest in others. It is the first of the four sublime states (Brahmavihāras) and one of the ten pāramīs of the Theravāda school of Buddhism.
The cultivation of benevolence (mettā bhāvanā) is a popular form of meditation in Buddhism in the Theravadin Buddhist tradition. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, it is part of the Brahmavihara meditation (four immeasurables). Metta as ‘compassion meditation’ is often practiced in Asia by broadcast chanting, wherein monks chant for the laity.
The compassion and universal loving-kindness concept of Metta is discussed in the Metta Sutta of Buddhism, and is also found in the ancient and medieval texts of Hinduism and Jainism as Metta or Maitri.
Small sample studies on the potential of loving-kindness meditation approach on patients suggest potential benefits. However, peer reviews question the quality and sample size of these studies, then suggest caution.
In the Sutra of Golden Light, Buddha Shakyamuni lists the benefits of contact with this sublime sutra. He says:
Those who hear this sutra,
Those who cause others to hear it,
Those who rejoice upon hearing it
And make offerings to it,
For tens of millions of eons
Shall be venerated by gods and nagas,
Humans and kinnaras,
Asuras and yakshas.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche, urges us to recite the Sutra of Golden Light
The Vinaya (Pali and Sanskrit, literally meaning “leading out”, “education”, “discipline”) is the regulatory framework for the sangha or monastic community of Buddhism based on the canonical texts called the Vinaya Pitaka. The teachings of the Gautama Buddha can be divided into two broad categories: Dharma “doctrine” and Vinaya “discipline”.
The Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (MN 10: The Discourse on the Establishing of Mindfulness) and the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta (DN 22: The Great Discourse on the Establishing of Mindfulness) are two of the most important and widely studied discourses in the Pāli Canon of Theravada Buddhism, acting as the foundation for mindfulness meditational practice. These suttas (discourses) stress the practice of sati (mindfulness) “for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the extinguishing of suffering and grief, for walking on the path of truth, for the realization of nibbāna.”
Sloth and torpor follow sensual desire and aversion in the list of the five hindrances. Accustomed to the stimulation of constant desire and aversion, some people become tired or deflated when these stimuli are absent. After meditation has calmed the mental activity of wanting and averting, sloth and torpor may be the hindrance that needs to be overcome. Doing so renews a healthy state of energy and alertness.
The five hindrances are key psychological forces that obscure the natural luminosity and healthy functioning of the mind. Because they hinder attention, it is important for people practicing mindfulness to become wise about them.
Sloth and torpor are forces in the mind that drain vitality and limit effort. Sloth manifests as a physical absence of vitality. The body may feel heavy, lethargic, weary, or weak. It may be difficult to keep the body erect when meditating. Torpor is a mental lack of energy. The mind may be dull, cloudy, or weary. It easily drifts in thought. Being caught in sloth or torpor can resemble slogging through deep mud. When this hindrance is strong, there is not even enough mindfulness to know we’ve fallen in.
Discouragement, frustration, boredom, indifference, giving up, hopelessness, and resistance are some of the psychological causes of sloth and torpor. Mental and physical tiredness may resemble sloth and torpor, but differ in not arising from a psychological attitude.
The presence of sloth and torpor does not mean that energy is not available. It means we are not accessing it. With a change in conditions, energy may reappear in a moment. This can be seen clearly in young children who switch from being “tired” (while shopping, for instance) to being energetic (about an offer of ice cream, for instance) in a matter of seconds. The energy level depends on whether they evaluate the situation as boring or exciting.
The term nāmarūpa is used in Hindu thought, nāma describing the spiritual or essential properties of an object or being, and rūpathe physical presence that it manifests. These terms are used similarly to the way that ‘essence‘ and ‘accident‘ are used in Catholic theology to describe transubstantiation. The distinction between nāma and rūpa in Hindu thought explains the ability of spiritual powers to manifest through inadequate or inanimate vessels – as observed in possession and oracular phenomena, as well as in the presence of the divine in images that are worshiped through pūja.
Nāma Rupatmak Vishva is the Vedanta (a school of Sanatana Dharma/Hinduism) term for the manifest Universe, viz. The World as we know it. Since every object in this World has a Nāma and Rupa,the World is called Nāma Rupatmak Vishva. The Paramātma (or Creator) is not manifest in this Nāma Rupatmak Vishva but is realized by a Sādhaka(student) by means of Bhakti (devotion), Karma (duty), Jnana (knowledge), Yoga (Union, a Hindu school), or a combination of all of these methodologies.
This term is also used in Buddhism, to refer to constituent processes of the human being: nāma is typically considered to refer to psychological elements of the human person, while Rūpa refers to the physical. The Buddhist nāma and rūpa are mutually dependent, and not separable; as nāmarūpa, they designate an individual being. Namarupa are also referred to as the five skandhas.
In the first (passive) sense, saṅkhāra refers to conditioned phenomena generally but specifically to all mental “dispositions”. These are called ‘volitional formations’ both because they are formed as a result of volition and because they are causes for the arising of future volitional actions. English translations for saṅkhāra in the first sense of the word include ‘conditioned things,’‘determinations,’ ‘fabrications’ and ‘formations’ (or, particularly when referring to mental processes, ‘volitional formations’).
aṅkhāra is a Pali word, that is based on the Sanskrit word saṃskāra. The latter word is not a Vedic Sanskrit term, but found extensively in classical and epic era Sanskrit in all Indian philosophies. Saṃskāra is found in the Hindu Upanishads such as in verse 2.6 of Kaushitaki Upanishad, 4.16.2–4 of Chandogya Upanishad, 6.3.1 of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad as well as mentioned by the ancient Indian scholar Panini and many others. Saṅkhāra appears in the Buddhist Pitaka texts with a variety of meanings and contexts, somewhat different than the Upanishadic texts, particularly for anything to predicate impermanence.
It is a complex concept, with no one word English translation, that fuses “object and subject” as interdependent parts of each human’s consciousness and epistemological process. It connotes “impression, disposition, conditioning, forming, perfecting in one’s mind, influencing one’s sensory and conceptual faculty” as well as any “preparation, sacrament” that “impresses, disposes, influences or conditions” how one thinks, conceives or feels.
In the first (passive) sense, saṅkhāra refers to “conditioned things” or “dispositions, mental imprint”. All precepts, state early Buddhist texts, are conditioned things. It can refer to any compound form in the universe whether a tree, a cloud, a human being, a thought or a molecule. All these are saṅkhāras, as well as everything that is physical and visible in the phenomenal world are conditioned things, or aggregate of mental conditions. The Buddha taught that all saṅkhāras are impermanent and essenceless.These subjective dispositions, states David Kalupahana, “prevented the Buddha from attempting to formulate an ultimately objective view of the world”.
Since conditioned things and dispositions are perceptions and do not have real essence, they are not reliable sources of pleasure and they are impermanent. Understanding the significance of this reality is wisdom. This “conditioned things” sense of the word Saṅkhāra appears in Four Noble Truths and in Buddhist theory of dependent origination, that is how ignorance or misconceptions about impermanence and non-self leads to Taṇhā and rebirths. The Samyutta Nikaya II.12.1 presents one such explanation, as do other Pali texts.
The last words of the Buddha, according to the Mahāparinibbāna Sutta (in English and Pali), were “Disciples, this I declare to you: All conditioned things are subject to disintegration – strive on untiringly for your liberation.” (Pali: “handa’dāni bhikkhave āmantayāmi vo, vayadhammā saṅkhārā appamādena sampādethā ti.“)
| The Five Aggregates (pañca khandha)
according to the Pali Canon.
|Source: MN 109 (Thanissaro, 2001) | diagram details|
In the second (active) sense, saṅkhāra (or saṅkhāra-khandha) refers to the form-creating faculty of mind. It is part of the doctrine of conditioned arising or dependent origination (paṭiccasamuppāda). In this sense, the termSankhara is karmically active volition or intention, which generates rebirth and influences the realm of rebirth.Sankhara herein is synonymous with karma, and includes actions of the body, speech and mind.
The saṅkhāra-khandha states that living beings are reborn (bhava, become) by means of actions of body and speech (kamma). The Buddha stated that all volitional constructs are conditioned by ignorance (avijja) ofimpermanence and non-self. It is this ignorance that leads to the origination of the sankharas and ultimately causes human suffering (dukkha). The cessation of all such sankharas (sabba-saṅkhāra-nirodha) is synonymous with Enlightenment (bodhi), the attainment of nirvana. The end of conditioned arising or dependent origination in the karmic sense (Sankharas), yields the unconditioned phenomenon of nirvana.
As the ignorance conditions the volitional formations, these formations condition, in turn, the consciousness (viññāna). The Buddha elaborated:
‘What one intends, what one arranges, and what one obsesses about: This is a support for the stationing of consciousness. There being a support, there is a landing [or: an establishing] of consciousness. When that consciousness lands and grows, there is the production of renewed becoming in the future. When there is the production of renewed becoming in the future, there is future birth, aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair. Such is the origination of this entire mass of suffering & stress.’