One of the threads connecting Buddhists throughout the world is a collection of stories know as the jatakas, which depict Shakyamuni’s hundreds of previous lives spent perfecting virtues as animals of different species and humans of different classes. In The Jatakas: Birth Stories of the Bodhisatta (Penguin, 2007), Sarah Shaw offers new and highly accessible translations of twenty-six stories from the ancient Pali collection. The previous six-volume translation of all 547 stories, edited by E.B. Cowell in the late-nineteenth century, was intimidating to many readers because of its sheer size and also its archaic Victorian language. Shaw offers a much smaller selection, and her translations are in clear and contemporary English, which makes the book more appealing for new readers as well as old. She skillfully bridges the gap between the necessary compactness of the Penguin paperback and the large body of scholarship on the jatakas with an informative introduction to the book, short introductions to each story, helpful appendices, and a glossary of terms.
By Andrea Miller
A year before his death in 1981, His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa, head of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, was traveling in the United States on what would become his last world tour. At that time, he showed some of his students a sketch he had made years before. It depicted what His Holiness envisioned for his principal seat in the Western world: a fully functioning Tibetan-style monastery in a North American setting. Now, more than twenty-five years later, his vision – Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD) – is on the verge of completion.
As long as we have bodies, we will have physical pain. Buddhism promises no escape from that. What we can change is how we experience pain. Four well-known Buddhist teachers offer techniques to lessen pain’s mental suffering, look at its true nature, and learn its valuable lessons.
Bhikkhu Bodhi on the stern but eloquent teachings of chronic pain.
When I write about living with pain, I don’t have to use my imagination. Since 1976 I have been afflicted with chronic head pain that has grown worse over the decades. This condition has thrown a granite boulder across the tracks of my meditation practice. Pain often wipes a day and night off my calendar, and sometimes more at a stretch. The condition has cost me a total of several years of productive activity. Because intense head pain makes reading difficult, it has at times even threatened my vocation as a scholar and translator of Buddhist texts.
Happiness may be natural but it can feel very elusive unless you know how to cultivate it properly, says Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche. He presents five noble qualities that enable us to experience this ever-present happiness.
We all know, intellectually at least, that the Buddha’s dharma is not merely a topic of study, nor is it simply something to be practiced on our meditation cushions. But as we hurry through our daily lives, it is easy to forget that the quality of formal practice is intimately tied to the quality of our minds, moment to moment. Practitioners of all levels can benefit from instructions on how to enrich their own lives and the lives of others by cultivating five noble qualities that are within reach of us all: contentment, rejoicing, forgiveness, good heart, and mindfulness.
“When you understand that this present moment is all there is, you have no choice but to come to a radical acceptance, which is none other than true peace and composure.” Two teishos by Eido Shimano Roshi.
Obaku Bangs His Staff
The Master (Rinzai) was dozing in the monks’ hall. Obaku (Huangbo) came in. Seeing this, he struck the platform with his staff. The Master raised his head. Noticing it was Obaku, he resumed dozing. Obaku again struck the platform. He then proceeded to the upper part of the hall. Seeing the head monk in zazen, he said, “The youngster in the lower part of the hall is doing zazen. What kind of delusions are you indulging in here?” The head monk said, “This old fellow, what are you doing?” Obaku struck the platform once more and left.
Later Isan (Weishan) asked Kyozan (Yangshan), “What was the intention of Obaku’s coming to the monks’ hall?” Kyozan said, “One contest, two victories.”
The late Burmese teacher Mahasi Sayadaw helped to revitalize the Vipassana tradition with his precise teachings on meditation. His student Bhante Bodhidhamma presents Mahasi’s simple and direct method for slowing down and ultimately halting conceptual thinking.
It has been more than 2,500 years since the Buddha first expounded the teachings. Throughout history, the teachings, the dhamma, have at times lost their vitality. But reformation movements—some large, some small—have always helped to revive them. In Theravadan Buddhist countries, the Burmese teacher Mahasi Sayadaw has been credited widely with bringing new insight to the practice of vipassana. His system demands a total dedication to keeping the attention inward, from the moment of waking until the end of the day. The three characteristics of Mahasi’s technique are observing the breath at the abdomen, noting, and going very slowly.
Introduction by Andy Karr
Few Buddhist ideas resonate more, yet produce more dissonance for Western dharma practitioners, than karma. It’s easy to feel that the laws of karma are at work when you see the chickens coming home to roost for someone with an outsized ego. They had it coming. But we are still waiting to see the Harvard Business School case study of how Bill Gates’ extraordinary generosity in previous lives caused his unbelievable wealth in this life.
Karma is a Sanskrit word that means “action.” The teachings on karma are about action and its results, cause and effect. On the cause side of the equation, intention or motivation is crucial. The seminal text The Treasury of Abhidharma by Vasubandhu (fifth century) says that karma is intention and the acts that flow out of intention. If you worry about the karmic consequences of all the dead bugs splattered on your windshield, don’t. When there is no intention to cause harm, no negative karmic seeds are planted.
On the effect side of the equation, the cardinal rule is that karma never fades away. The results of an action may not mature for many lifetimes, but when appropriate conditions are encountered, the results inevitably arise. And they always arise for the one who performed the action.
Who are the foolish beings? According to the Shin tradition of Pure Land Buddhism, we all are. Mark Unno explains that only by becoming aware of our limited self and acknowledging our fundamental foolishness can we realize the oneness of all beings and the limitless flow of compassion.
One of the implications of the Mahayana Buddhist idea of emptiness is that the important question is not “What does it mean to be a Buddhist?” It is “What does it mean to be a human being?” That’s because emptiness applies to Buddhism itself as much as it does to ordinary objects of attachment. It is only when one has been “emptied” of all preconceived categories, including those of Buddhism, that the deepest reality of being human becomes apparent. As the Zen master Dogen states, “To study the buddhadharma is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self.”
By Ajahn Punnadhammo
The first factor of the eightfold noble path is right view. While it is true that the eight factors should be developed together, it is also true that there is always a reason for the order of the factors in the lists given by the Buddha. The path factor of right view may be thought of as the foundation stone for the whole edifice of practice.
The Buddha was quite explicit in defining the content of what he called right view. One endowed with right view would understand the world as follows: “He has right view, undistorted vision, thus: ‘There is that which is given and what is offered and what is sacrificed; there is fruit and result of good and bad actions; there is this world and the other world; there is mother and father; there are beings who are reborn spontaneously; there are good and virtuous recluses and brahmins in the world who have themselves realized by direct knowledge and declare this world and the other world’” (Majjhima Nikaya 41.14).
Q: Since the age of eighteen I’ve been in the military, training for combat, engaged in combat, and training other soldiers to do the same. When I was young, I thought peace came through aggression and never letting your defense down. But now I’m in my mid-forties, still young enough to do what has to be done but old enough to realize that peace and happiness are what make a life good. It’s that peaceful, happy feeling that I can’t seem to find.
Do you believe a person can practice Buddhist ways and still maintain a job in the military, even though the military is by nature an aggressive organization? As a Buddhist, must you always believe in “turning the other cheek” when something bad happens to you?