Sunday, February 27, 2011

Barley, mindfulness, and yoga

Elizabeth led the first of what will be at least four yoga sessions before regular meditation. The sessions are oriented to beginners - and she's both very knowledgable and gentle!

Jeff provided the reading. Actually, he read several selections. Here is one of them: It's from the Milindapañha, a Buddhist text dating from approximately 100 BCE. It is supposedly the record of a dialog between the Indo-Greek king Menander I (Milinda in Pali) of Bactria, who reigned in the 2nd century BCE, and the sage Nāgasena. Menander was interested in Buddhist thought - and the sage tried to answer his questions.

The king said: "Is it through wise attention that people become exempt from further rebirth?" — "Yes, that is due to wise attention, and also to wisdom, and the other wholesome dharmas." — "But is not wise attention the same as wisdom?" — "No, Your Majesty. Attention is one thing, and wisdom another. Sheep and goats, oxen and buffaloes, camels and asses have attention, but wisdom they have not." — "Well put, Venerable Nagasena."

The king said: "What is the mark of attention, and what is the mark of wisdom?" — "Consideration is the mark of attention, cutting off that of wisdom." — "How is that? Give me a simile." — "You know barley-reapers, I suppose?" — "Yes, I do." — "How then do they reap the barley?" — "With the left hand they seize a bunch of barley, in the right hand they hold a sickle, and they cut the barley off with that sickle." — "Just so, Your Majesty, the yogin seizes his mental processes with his attention, and by his wisdom he cuts off the defilements." — "Well put, Venerable Nagasena."


Of course, the text continues from there. Jeff did not read the whole thing. Just in case you are curious, here it is....


The king said: "When you just spoke of 'the other wholesome dharmas,' which ones did you mean?" — "I meant morality, faith, vigor, mindfulness and concentration." — "And what is the mark of morality?" — "Morality has the mark of providing a basis for all wholesome dharmas, whatever they may be. When based on morality, all the wholesome dharmas will not dwindle away." — "Give me an illustration." — "As all plants and animals which increase, grow, and prosper, do so with the earth as their support, with the earth as their basis, just so the yogin, with morality as his support, with morality as his basis, develops the five cardinal virtues, i.e., the cardinal virtues of faith, vigor, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom."

"Give me a further illustration."

"As the builder of a city when constructing a town first of all clears the site, removes all stumps and thorns, and levels it; and only after that he lays out and marks off the roads and cross-roads, and so builds the city, even so the yogin develops the five cardinal virtues with morality as his support, with morality as his basis."

The king said: "What is the mark of faith?" — "Faith makes serene, and it leaps forward." — "And how does faith make serene?" — "When faith arises it arrests the five hindrances, and the heart becomes free from them, clear, serene and undisturbed." — "Give me an illustration." — "A universal monarch might on his way, together with his fourfold army, cross over a small stream. Stirred up by the elephants and horses, by the chariots and infantry, the water would become disturbed, agitated and muddy. Having crossed over, the universal monarch would order his men to bring some water for him to drink. But the king would possess a miraculous water-clearing gem, and his men, in obedience to his command, would throw it into the stream. Then at once all fragments of vegetation would float away, the mud would settle at the bottom, the stream would become clear, serene and undisturbed, and fit to be drunk by the universal monarch. Here the stream corresponds to the heart, the monarch's men to the yogin, the fragments of vegetation and the mud to the defilements, and the miraculous water-clearing gem to faith."

"And how does faith leap forward?" — "When the yogin sees that the hearts of others have been set free, he leaps forward, by way of aspiration, to the various fruits of the holy life, and he makes efforts to attain the yet unattained, to find the yet unfound, to realize the yet unrealized." — "Give me an illustration." — "Suppose that a great cloud were to burst over a hill-slope. The water then would flow down the slope, would first fill all the hill's clefts, fissures, and gullies, and would then run into the river below, making its banks overflow on both sides. Now suppose further that a great crowd of people had come along, and unable to size up either the width or the depth of the river, should stand frightened and hesitating on the bank. But then some man would come along, who, conscious of his own strength and power, would firmly tie on his own loin-cloth and jump across the river. And the great crowd of people, seeing him on the other side, would cross likewise. Even so the yogin, when he has seen that the hearts of others have been set free, leaps forward, by aspiration, to the various fruits of the holy life, and he makes efforts to attain the yet unattained, to find the yet unfound, to realize the yet unrealized. And this is what the Lord has said in the Samyutta Nikaya:

By faith the flood is crossed,
By wakefulness the sea;
By vigor ill is passed;
By wisdom cleansed is he."
"Well put, Nagasena!"

The king asked: "And what is the mark of vigor?" — "Vigor props up, and, when propped up by vigor, all the wholesome dharmas do not dwindle away." — "Give me a simile." — "If a man's house were falling down, he would prop it up with a new piece of wood, and, so supported, that house would not collapse."

The king asked: "And what is the mark of mindfulness?" — "Calling to mind and taking up."

"How is calling to mind a mark of mindfulness?" — "When mindfulness arises, one calls to mind the dharmas which participate in what is wholesome and unwholesome, blamable and blameless, inferior and sublime, dark and light, i.e., these are the four applications of mindfulness, these the four right efforts, these the four roads to psychic power, these the five cardinal virtues, these the five powers, these the seven limbs of enlightenment, this is the holy eightfold path; this is calm, this insight, this knowledge and this emancipation. Thereafter the yogin tends those dharmas which should be tended, and he does not tend those which should not be tended; he partakes of those dharmas which should be followed, and he does not partake of those which should not be followed. It is in this sense that calling to mind is a mark of mindfulness." — "Give me a simile." — "It is like the treasurer of a universal monarch, who each morning and evening reminds his royal master of his magnificent assets: 'So many elephants you have, so many horses, so many chariots, so much infantry, so many gold coins, so much bullion, so much property; may Your Majesty bear this in mind.' In this way he calls to mind his master's wealth."

"And how does mindfulness take up?" — "When mindfulness arises, the outcome of beneficial and harmful dharmas is examined in this way: 'These dharmas are beneficial, these harmful; these dharmas are helpful, these unhelpful.' Thereafter the yogin removes the harmful dharmas, and takes up the beneficial ones; he removes the unhelpful dharmas, and takes up the helpful ones. It is in this sense that mindfulness takes up." — "Give me a comparison." — "It is like the invaluable adviser of a universal monarch who knows what is beneficial and what is harmful to his royal master, what is helpful and what is unhelpful. Thereafter what is harmful and unhelpful can be removed, what is beneficial and helpful can be taken up."

The king asked: "And what is the mark of concentration?" — "It stands at the head. Whatever wholesome dharmas there may be, they all are headed by concentration, they bend towards concentration, lead to concentration, incline to concentration." — "Give me a comparison." — "It is as with a building with a pointed roof: whatever rafters there are, they all converge on the top, bend towards the top, meet at the top, and the top occupies the most prominent place. So with concentration in relation to the other wholesome dharmas." — "Give me a further comparison." — "If a king were to enter battle with his fourfold army, then all his troops — the elephants, cavalry, chariots and infantry — would be headed by him, and would be ranged around him. Such is the position of concentration in relation to the other wholesome dharmas."

The king then asked: "What then is the mark of wisdom?" — "Cutting off is, as I said before, one mark of wisdom. In addition it illuminates." — "And how does wisdom illuminate?" — "When wisdom arises, it dispels the darkness of ignorance, generates the illumination of knowledge, sheds the light of cognition, and makes the holy truths stand out clearly. Thereafter the yogin, with his correct wisdom, can see impermanence, ill, and not-self." — "Give me a comparison." — "It is like a lamp which a man would take into a dark house. It would dispel the darkness, would illuminate, shed light, and make the forms in the house stands out clearly." — "Well put, Venerable Nagasena."

— Milindapañha,

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