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The Urban Dharma Newsletter - April, 2009

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In This Issue: Buddhism and The Questions of King Milinda

1. Milinda Panha / From Wikipedia
2. The Questions of King Milinda
3. Lifestyles and Spiritual Progress - Bhikkhu Bodhi

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HI,

It has been busy at the center as of late… We are working on houses painting, laying tile, putting in new windows, etc.

–– –– –-

I’ve been asked to teach another class at ‘Insight LA’… The class is called – “Deepening Your Practice--The Questions of King Milinda: an Introduction to Buddhist Thought & Practice.”

It is a 3 week course May 7th to May 21st (7:00 am to 8:30 am – Thursdays) in Santa Monica, CA… More info at – http://www.insightla.org/schedule_details.asp?event_ID=366&adref=menu

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You can download a free copy of ‘The Questions of King Milinda’ from the UCLA Buddhist Club web site – http://sites.google.com/site/ubahome/resources – Bottom of the page, ‘Recent Files.’

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This Sunday 4/26/2009 I’m speaking at ‘Against the Stream / Buddhist Meditation Society… More info @ www.againstthestream.org – For those of you in the LA area.

Peace… Kusala



1. Milinda Panha / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milinda_Panha

The Milinda Pañha (also Milindapanha, Milindapañha, or Milindapañhā; abbrev., Mil) (Pali trans. "Questions of Milinda") is a Buddhist text which dates from approximately 100 BCE. It is sometimes included in the Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism as a book of the Khuddaka Nikaya.

It purports to record a dialogue in which the Indo-Greek king Menander I (Milinda in Pali) of Bactria, who reigned in the second century BCE, poses questions on Buddhism to the sage Nāgasena.

History

The earliest part of the text is believed to have been written between 100 BCE and 200 CE.[1] The text may have initially been written in Sanskrit;[2] however, apart from the Sri Lankan Pali edition and its derivatives, no other copies are known.

It is generally accepted by scholars[3] that the work is composite, with additions made over some time. In support of this, it is noted that the Chinese versions of the work are substantially shorter.[4]

The oldest manuscript of the Pali text was copied in 1495 CE. Based on references within the text itself, significant sections of the text are lost, making Mil the only Pali text known to have been passed down as incomplete.[5]

The book is included in the inscriptions of the Canon approved by the Burmese Fifth Council and the printed edition of the Sixth Council text.

Rhys Davids says it is the greatest work of classical Indian prose,[6] though Moritz Winternitz says this is true only of the earlier parts.

Contents

The contents of the Milindapañhā are:

1. Background History
2. Questions on Distinguishing Characteristics : (Characteristics of Attention and Wisdom, Characteristic of Wisdom, Characteristic of Contact, Characteristic of Feeling, Characteristic of Perception, Characteristic of Volition, Characteristic of Consciousness, Characteristic of Applied Thought, Characteristic of Sustained Thought, etc.)
3. Questions for the Cutting Off of Perplexity : (Transmigration and Rebirth, The Soul, Non-Release From Evil Deeds, Simultaneous Arising in Different Places, Doing Evil Knowingly and Unknowingly, etc.)
4. Questions on Dilemmas : Speaks of several puzzles and these puzzles were distributed in eighty-two dilemmas.
5. A Question Solved By Inference
6. Discusses the Special Qualities of Asceticism
7. Questions on Talk of Similes

According to Hinuber (2000), while King Menander is an actual historical figure, Bhikkhu Nagasena is otherwise unknown, the text includes anachronisms, and the dialogue lacks any sign of Greek influence but instead is traceable to the Upanisads.

As a consequence of the conquest of the Persian empire, the Greeks gained control of Bactria, modern Afghanistan, together with northern India. The local Greek rulers managed to establish their independence from the Seleucid empire which first held control over the area. Greek rule of Bactria continued until about 165 BC when the Shakas destroyed the Bactrian kingdom. Greeks continued to rule, however, in southern Afghanistan and northwestern India for another 150 years. The most important of these kings was Menander, known as Milinda in Buddhist sources, who ruled about 115-90 BC. Buddhism had reached the area as a consequence of the missionaries which the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka had sent more than a century earlier.



2. THE QUESTIONS OF KING MILINDA

http://www.as.miami.edu/phi/bio/Buddha/Milinda.htm

Why Nagasena went to Bactria

In the land of the Bactrian Greeks there was a city called Sagala, a great center of trade. Rivers and hills beautified it, delightful landscapes surrounded it, and it possessed many parks, gardens, woods, lakes and lotus-ponds. Its king was Milinda, a man who was learned, experienced, intelligent and competent, and who at the proper times carefully observed all the appropriate Brahminic rites, with regard to things past, future and present. As a disputant he was hard to assail, hard to overcome, and he was recognized as a prominent sectarian teacher.

One day a numerous company of Arhats, who lived in a well-protected spot in the Himalayas, sent a messenger to the Venerable Nagasena, then at the Asoka Park in Patna, asking him to come, as they wished to see him. Nagasena immediately complied by vanishing from where he was and miraculously appearing before them. And the Arhats said to him: "That king Milinda, Nagasena, constantly harasses the order of monks with questions and counter-questions, with arguments and counter-arguments. Please go, Nagasena, and subdue him!" But Nagasena replied: "Never mind just this one king Milinda! If all the kings of India would come to me with their questions, I could well dispose of them, and they would give no more trouble after that! You may go to Sagala without any fear whatever!" And the Elders went to Sagala, lighting up the city with their yellow robes which shone like lamps, and bringing with them the fresh breeze of the holy mountains.

The Venerable Nagasena stayed at the Sankheyya hermitage together with 80,000 monks. King Milinda, accompanied by a retinue of 500 Greeks, went up to where he was, gave him a friendly and courteous greeting, and sat on one side. Nagasena returned his greetings, and his courtesy pleased the king's heart.

Said the king, "Bhante Nagasena, will you converse with me?"

"Your majesty, if you will converse with me as the wise converse, I will, but if you converse with me as kings converse, I will not."

"Bhante Nagasena, how do the wise converse?"

"Your majesty, when the wise converse, whether they become entangled by their opponents’ arguments or extricate themselves, whether they or their opponents are convicted of error, whether their own superiority or that of their opponents is established, nothing in all this can make them angry. Thus, your majesty, do the wise converse."

"And how, bhante, do kings converse?"

"Your majesty, when kings converse, they advance a proposition, and whoever opposes it, they order his punishment, saying, ‘Punish this fellow!’ Thus, your majesty, do kings converse."

"Bhante, I will converse as the wise converse, not as kings do. Let your worship converse in all confidence. Let your worship converse as unrestrainedly as if with a monk or a novice or a lay disciple or a keeper of the monastery grounds. Be not afraid!"

"Very well, your majesty," said the elder in assent.

There Is No Self

Then drew near Milinda the king to where the venerable Nagasena was; and having drawn near, he greeted the venerable Nagasena, and having passed the compliments of friendship and civility, he sat down respectfully at one side. And the venerable Nagasena returned the greeting, by which, verily, he won the heart of king Milinda.

And Milinda the king spoke to the venerable Nagasena as follows:—

"How is your reverence called? Bhante, what is your name?"

"Your majesty, I am called Nagasena, my fellow-monks, your majesty, address me as Nagasena: but whether parents give one the name Nagasena, or Surasena, or Virasena, or Sihasena, it is, nevertheless, your majesty, but a way of counting, a term, an appellation, a convenient designation, a mere name, this Nagasena, for there is no self here to be found."

Then said Milinda the king,—

"Listen to me, my lords, you five hundred Yonakas, and you eighty thousand monks! Nagasena here says thus: ‘There is no self here to be found.’ Is it possible, pray, for me to assent to what he says?"

And Milinda the king spoke to the venerable Nagasena as follows:—

"Bhante Nagasena, if there is no self to be found, who is it then furnishes you monks with the monkly requisites, —robes, food, bedding, and medicine, the reliance of the sick? who is it makes use of the same? who is it keeps the precepts? who is it applies himself to meditation? who is it realizes the Paths, the Fruits, and Nirvana? who is it destroys life? who is it takes what is not given him? who is it commits immorality? who is it tells lies? who is it drinks intoxicating liquor? who is it commits the five crimes that constitute ‘proximate karma?’1 In that case, there is no merit; there is no demerit; there is no one who does or causes to be done meritorious or demeritorious deeds; neither good nor evil deeds can have any fruit or result. Bhante Nagasena, neither is he a murderer who kills a monk, nor can you monks, bhante Nagasena, have any teacher, preceptor, or ordination. When you say, ‘My fellow-monks, your majesty, address me as Nagasena,’ what then is this Nagasena? Pray, bhante, is the hair of the head Nagasena?"

"Nay, verily, your majesty."

"Is the hair of the body Nagasena ? "

"Nay, verily, your majesty."

"Are nails . . . teeth . . . skin . . . flesh . . . sinews . . . bones . . . marrow of the bones . . . kidneys . . . heart . . . liver . . . pleura . . . spleen . . . lungs . . . intestines . . . mesentery . . . stomach . . . faeces . . . bile. .. phlegm . . . pus . . . blood . . . sweat . . . fat . . . tears . . . lymph . . . saliva . . . snot . . . synovial fluid . . .urine . . . brain of the head Nagasena?"

"Nay, verily, your majesty."

"Is now, bhante, form Nagasena?"

"Nay, verily, your majesty."

"Is sensation Nagasena?"

"Nay, verily, your majesty."

"Is perception Nagasena?"

"Nay, verily, your majesty."

"Are the psychic constructions Nagasena?"

"Nay, verily, your majesty."

"Is consciousness Nagasena?"

"Nay, verily, your majesty."

"Are, then, bhante, form, sensation, perception, the psychic constructions, and consciousness unitedly Nagasena?"

"Nay, verily, your majesty."

"Is it, then, bhante, something besides form, sensation, perception, the psychic constructions, and consciousness, which is Nagasena?"

"Nay, verily, your majesty."

"Bhante, although I question you very closely, I fail to discover any Nagasena. Verily, now, bhante, Nagasena is a mere empty sound. What Nagasena is there here? Bhante, you speak a falsehood, a lie: there is no Nagasena."

Then the venerable Nagasena spoke to Milinda the king as follows:—

"Your majesty, you are a delicate prince, an exceedingly delicate prince; and if, your majesty, you walk in the middle of the day on hot sandy ground, and you tread on rough grit, gravel, and sand, your feet become sore, your body tired, the mind is oppressed, and the body-consciousness suffers. Pray, did you come afoot, or riding?"

"Bhante, I do not go afoot: I came in a chariot."

"Your majesty, if you came in a chariot, declare to me the chariot. Pray, your majesty, is the pole the chariot?"

"Nay, verily, bhante."

"Is the axle the chariot?"

"Nay, verily, bhante."

"Are the wheels the chariot?"

"Nay, verily, bhante."

"Is the chariot-body the chariot?"

"Nay, verily, bhante."

"Is the banner-staff the chariot?"

"Nay, verily, bhante."

"Is the yoke the chariot?"

"Nay, verily, bhante."

"Are the reins the chariot?"

"Nay, verily, bhante."

"Is the goading-stick the chariot?"

"Nay, verily, bhante."

"Pray, your majesty, are pole, axle, wheels, chariot-body, banner-staff, yoke, reins, and goad unitedly the chariot?"

"Nay, verily, bhante."

"Is it, then, your majesty, something else besides pole; axle, wheels, chariot-body, banner-staff, yoke, reins, and goad which is the chariot?"

"Nay, verily, bhante."

"Your majesty, although I question you very closely, I fail to discover any chariot. Verily now, your majesty, the word chariot is a mere empty sound. What chariot is there here? Your majesty, you speak a falsehood, a lie: there is no chariot. Your majesty, you are the chief king in all the continent of India; of whom are you afraid that you speak a lie? Listen to me, my lords, you five hundred Yonakas, and you eighty thousand monks! Milinda the king here says thus: ‘I came in a chariot;’ and being requested, ‘Your majesty, if you came in a chariot, declare to me the chariot,’ he fails to produce any chariot. Is it possible, pray, for me to assent to what he says?"

When he had thus spoken, the five hundred Yonakas applauded the venerable Nagasena and spoke to Milinda the king as follows:—

"Now, your majesty, answer, if you can."

Then Milinda the king spoke to the venerable Nagasena as follows:—

"Bhante Nagasena, I speak no lie: the word ‘chariot’ is but a way of counting, term, appellation, convenient designation, and name for pole, axle, wheels, chariot-body, and banner-staff."

"Thoroughly well, your majesty, do you understand a chariot. In exactly the same way, your majesty, in respect of me, Nagasena is but a way of counting, term, appellation, convenient designation, mere name for the hair of my head, hair of my body . . . brain of the head, form, sensation, perception, the psychic constructions, and consciousness. But in the absolute sense there is no self here to be found. And the priestess Vajira, your majesty, said as follows in the presence of The Blessed One:—

Even as the word of "chariot" means
That members join to frame a whole
So when the Groups appear to view,
We use the phrase, "A living being."

"It is wonderful, bhante Nagasena! It is marvelous, bhante Nagasena! Brilliant and prompt is the wit of your replies. If The Buddha were alive, he would applaud. Well done, well done, Nagasena! Brilliant and prompt is the wit of your replies."

1Translated from the Sarasangaha, as quoted in Trenckner’s note to this passage:

"By proximate karma is meant karma that ripens in the next existence. To show what this is, I [the author of the Sarasangaha] give the following passage from the Atthanasutta of the first book of the Anguttara-Nikaya:—"It is an impossibility, O monks, the case can never occur, that an individual imbued with the correct doctrine should deprive his mother of life, should deprive his father of life, should deprive a saint of life, should in a revengeful spirit cause a bloody wound to a Tathagata, should cause a schism in the church. This is an impossibility."’

Lay People and Monks

King Milinda said: "Venerable Nagasena, the Lord has said: ‘Right spiritual progress is praiseworthy for householders and homeless wanderers alike. Both householders and homeless wanderers, when progressing rightly, can accomplish, because of their right progress, the right method, the Dharma, that which is wholesome.’ If, Nagasena, a householder, dressed in white, enjoying the pleasures of the senses, inhabiting a house overcrowded with wife and family, using the sandalwood of Benares, as well as garlands, perfumes and unguents, owning gold and silver, wearing a turban ornamented with gold and jewels, can, if he progresses rightly, accomplish the right method, the Dharma, the wholesome; and if a homeless wanderer, bald-headed, clad in the saffron robe, dependent on begging for his livelihood, careful to fulfil correctly the four Sections of monastic morality, submitting to the 150 Pratimoksa rules, and observing all the thirteen Austere Practices, without omitting any one, can also, if he progresses rightly, accomplish the right method, the Dharma, the wholesome; then, Venerable Sir, what is the difference between the householder and the homeless wanderer? Fruitless is your austerity, useless is the homeless life, barren is the observation of the Pratimoksa rules, in vain do you observe the austere practices! What is the use of your inflicting pain upon yourself if you can thus while remaining at ease win the ease of Nirvana?"

Nagasena replied: "You have quoted the Lord's words correctly, your majesty. To make right progress is indeed the most excellent thing of all. And if the homeless- wanderer, in the consciousness of being a homeless wanderer, should fail to progress rightly, then he would be far from the state of an ascetic, far from a holy life; and still more so would that apply to a householder dressed in white. But both the householder and the homeless wanderer are alike in that, when they progress rightly, they accomplish the right method, the Dharma, the wholesome. And nevertheless, your majesty, it is the homeless wanderer who is the lord and master of the ascetic life, and to be a homeless wanderer has many, has numerous, has infinite virtues. To measure the virtues of being a homeless wanderer is not at all possible. It is as with a jewel that fulfils all one's wishes; one cannot measure its value in terms of money, and say that it is worth so much. Or it is as with the waves in the great ocean, which one cannot measure and say that there are so many. All that the homeless wanderer still has to do, he succeeds in doing rapidly and without taking a long time over it. And why is that so? Because the homeless wanderer, your majesty, is content with little, easily pleased, secluded from the world, not addicted to society, energetic, independent, solitary, perfect in his conduct, austere in his practice, skilled in all that concerns purification and spiritual progress. He is like your javelin, your majesty. Because that is smooth, even, well polished, straight and shining dean, therefore, when well thrown, it will fly exactly as you want it to. In the same way, whatever the homeless wanderer still has to do, he succeeds in doing it all rapidly and without taking a long time over it"

"Well spoken, Nagasena. So it is, and so I accept it."

And Nagasena continued: "But, in any case, your majesty, all those who as householders, living in a home and in the enjoyment of sensuous pleasures, realize the peace of Nirvana, the highest good, they have all been trained in their former lives in the thirteen Austere Practices peculiar to monks, and through them they have laid the foundations for their present sanctity. It is because then they had purified their conduct and behavior by means of them, that now even as householders, living in a home and in the enjoyment of sense-pleasures, they can realize the peace of Nirvana, the highest good.

"But whosoever enters the Order of monks from bad motives, from covetousness, deceitfully, out of greed and gluttony, desirous of gain, fame, or reputation, unsuitably, unqualified, unfit, unworthy, unseemingly—he shall incur a twofold punishment, which will prove ruinous to all his good qualities: in this very life he shall be scorned, derided, reproached, ridiculed and mocked; he shall be shunned, expelled, ejected, removed, and banished. And in his next life, like foam which is tossed about, up and down and across, he shall cook for many hundreds of thousands of eons of years in the great Avici hell, which is a hundred leagues big, and all ablaze with hot, scorching, fierce, and fiery flames. And when he has been released thence, his entire body will become emaciated, rough, and black, his head swollen, bloated and full of holes; hungry and thirsty, disagreeable and dreadful to look at, his ears all torn, his eyes constantly blinking, his whole body one putrid mass of sores and dense with maggots, his bowels all afire and blazing like a mass of fire fanned by a breeze, helpless and unprotected, weeping, crying, wailing, and lamenting, consumed by unsatisfied longings, he that once was a religious wanderer shall then, now a large hungry ghost, roam about on the earth bewailing his fate.

"But if, on the other hand, a monk enters the Order suitably, qualified, fit, worthy and seemingly, content with little, easily pleased, secluded from the world, not addicted to society, energetic and resolute, without fraudulence and deceit, not gluttonous, not desirous of gain, fame, or reputation, devout and from faith, from a desire to free himself from old age and death and to uphold the Buddha's religion, then he deserves to be honored in two ways by both gods and men. He is dear and pleasing to them, they love him and seek after him. He is to them as fine jasmine flowers are to a man bathed and anointed, or good food to the hungry, or a cool, clear, and fragrant drink to the thirsty, or an effective medicine to those who are poisoned, or a superb chariot drawn by thoroughbreds to those who want to travel fast, or a wishing jewel to those who want to enrich themselves, or a brilliantly white parasol, the emblem of royalty, to those who like to be kings, or as the supreme attainment of the fruit of Arhatship to those who wish for Dharma. In him the four applications of mindfulness reach their full development, the four right exhorts, the four roads to psychic power, the five cardinal virtues, the five powers, the seven limbs of enlightenment, and the holy eightfold path; he attains to calm and insight, his progressive attainments continue to mature, and he becomes a repository of the four fruits of the religious life, of the four analytical knowledges, the three kinds of knowledge, and the six superknowledges, in short, of the whole Dharma of the religious life, and he is consecrated with the brilliantly white parasol of emancipation."



3. Lifestyles and Spiritual Progress - Bhikkhu Bodhi

http://www.bps.lk/newaletters/nl39.html

Newcomers to Buddhism often ask whether a person’s lifestyle has any special bearing on their ability to progress along the Buddha’s path, and in particular whether the Buddha had any reason for establishing a monastic order governed by guidelines quite different from those that hold sway over the lay Buddhist community. Doesn’t it seem, they ask, that a lay person who follows the Buddhist precepts in daily life should be able to advance just as rapidly as a monk and attain the same level of enlightenment? And, if this is so, doesn’t this mean that the entire monastic lifestyle becomes something superfluous, or at best a mere matter of personal choice no more relevant to one’s capacity for spiritual development than whether one trains to become a doctor or an engineer?

If we suspend concern for questions of status and superiority and simply consider the two modes of life in their ideal expression, the conclusion would have to follow that the monastic life, lived in the way envisioned by the Buddha, is the one that conduces more effectively to the final goal. According to the Páli Canon, the ultimate goal of the Dhamma is the attainment of Nibbána: the destruction of all defilements here and now and ultimate release from saísára, the round of rebirths. This attainment comes about by eliminating craving and ignorance through the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path is open equally to both monastics and lay followers; monastic ordination does not confer any privileged access to the path or an empowerment that enables a monk to make more rapid progress than a lay follower. But while this is so, the fact remains that the monastic life was expressly designed by the Buddha to facilitate complete dedication to the practice of the path in its three stages of virtue, concentration, and wisdom, and thus provides the optimal conditions for spiritual progress.

The monastic lifestyle does so precisely because the final goal is a state of renunciation, “the relinquishment of all acquisitions” (sabb’upadhi-paþinissagga), and from the outset the monk’s life is rooted in renunciation. In “going forth,” the monk leaves behind family, possessions, and worldly position, and even the outer marks of personal identity, symbolized by hair, beard, and wardrobe. By shaving the head and donning the yellow robe, the monk has given up—in principle at least—any claim to a unique identity of his own. Outwardly indistinguishable from a hundred thousand other monks, he has become simply a "Sakyaputtiya samaóa," an ascetic who follows the Sakyan son (i.e., the Buddha). The life of the monk involves radical simplicity, contentment with the barest requisites, the need to be patient in difficulty. The monastic lifestyle places the monk in dependence on the generosity and kindness of others, and imposes on him an intricate code of discipline, the Vinaya, designed to foster the essential renunciant virtues of simplicity, restraint, purity, and harmlessness. These virtues provide a sound basis for the higher attainments in concentration and insight, which are essentially stages in the progressive purification of the mind and the deepening of insight.

Of prime importance, too, is the external freedom ideally provided by the monastic life. The monastic schedule leaves the monk free from extraneous demands on his time and energy, allowing him to devote himself fully to the practice and study of the Dhamma. Of course, as the monastic life is lived today, monks take on many responsibilities not originally mentioned in the canonical texts, and in a traditional Buddhist country the village temple has become the hub of religious activity, with the monks functioning as virtual priests for the wider Buddhist community. But here we are concerned with the canonical picture of the monastic life. If the monk's life so conceived did not promote smoother progress towards the goal, it seems there would have been no compelling reason for the Buddha to have established a monastic order or to have encouraged men and women so inclined to "go forth from the home life into homelessness."

While the attainment of Nibbána is the ultimate goal of early Buddhism, it is not the only goal, and one of the shortcomings in the way Theravada Buddhism has been presented to the West is the one-sided emphasis placed on the final goal over the provisional aspect of the Teaching. In traditional Buddhist lands few Buddhists see Nibbána as an immediately realistic prospect. The great majority, both lay and monastic, regard the path as a course of "gradual practice, gradual progress, and gradual achievement” extending over many lives. Their practice as Buddhists centres around the performance of meritorious deeds and methodical mental purification, rooted in the confidence that the kammic law of causality and the spiritual power of the Dhamma will sustain them even through the succession of lifetimes in their quest for enlightenment and deliverance.

To make clear the choices facing the lay follower we might posit two alternative models of the Buddhist lay life. On the first model lay life is seen as a field for gradual progress towards the goal through the development of wholesome qualities such as generosity, moral virtue, kindness, and understanding. The immediate aim is not direct realization of the highest truth but the accumulation of merits leading to a happy rebirth and gradual progress towards Nibbana.

The second model recognizes the capacity of lay followers for reaching the stages of awakening in this life itself, and advocates strict moral discipline and strenuous effort in meditation to attain deep insight into the truth of the Dhamma. While there are in Buddhist countries lay people who follow the path of direct realization, their number is much smaller than those who pursue the alternative model. The reason should be obvious enough: the stakes are higher, and include a capacity for inward renunciation rare among those who must raise a family, work at a full-time job, and struggle to survive in a ruggedly competitive world. We should note further a point of prime importance: this second model of the Buddhist lay life becomes effective as a means to higher attainment precisely because it emulates the monastic model. Thus, to the extent that a lay follower embarks on the practice of the direct path to realization, he or she does so by conforming to the lifestyle of a monk or nun.

These two conceptions of the lay life need not be seen as mutually exclusive, for an earnest lay follower can adopt the first model for his or her normal routine and also stake out periods to pursue the second model, e.g., by curtailing social engagements, devoting time to deep study and meditation, and occasionally going on extended retreats. Though a monastic lifestyle might be more conducive to enlightenment than a busy life within the world, when it comes to individuals rather than models all fixed preconceptions collapse. Some lay people with heavy family and social commitments manage to make such rapid progress that they can give guidance in meditation to earnest monks, and it is not rare at all to find sincere monks deeply committed to the practice who advance slowly and with difficulty. While the monastic life, lived according to the original ideal, may provide the optimal outer conditions for spiritual progress, the actual rate of progress depends both on individual effort and on the store of qualities one brings over from previous lives. Often it seems that on both counts those deeply enmeshed in the world are more adequately equipped than those who enter the Sangha.

In any case, whether for monk, nun, or lay person, the path to Nibbána is the same: the Noble Eightfold Path. Whatever one's personal circumstances may be, if one is truly earnest about realizing the final goal of the Dhamma one will make every effort to tread this path in the way that best fits the particular circumstances of one's life. As the Buddha himself says: "Whether it be a householder or one gone forth, it is the one of right practice that I praise, not the one of wrong practice" (SN 45:24).

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