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From ABC, this is the 10 percent happier podcast. I'm Dan Harris. Hey, guys, before we get started, one item of business, 20, 20, as we all know, has been. Let's just say interesting, so this year we're offering 10 percent happier subscriptions at a 40 percent discount. We don't do discounts of this size all the time. Of course, nothing is permanent. I think the Buddha said something about that, nothing being permanent.


So get this deal before it ends on December 1st by going to 10 percent dotcoms in November. That's 10 percent. One word all spelled out, dotcom, November for 40 percent off your subscription to the 10 percent happier, happy.


All right, let's dive into today's episode, speaking of the Buddha, when I first got interested in meditation, all the talk of the Buddha that I encountered in the various books I was reading and lectures I was attending seemed like more of a bug than a feature. I was looking for science backed stress relief, not religion. But the more I learned, the more interested I became in the Buddha. He was, after all, not a God or a prophet.


He was based on the available evidence, at least a mortal man who made no claims about the creation of the universe. In fact, to the extent that he did make metaphysical claims, he explicitly told people, don't believe anything just because I tell you. Meanwhile, he laid out a whole set of meditation instructions and an approach to the human situation generally that, in my experience, are extraordinarily practical and valuable.


And yet many of today's meditators don't actually know much about who the Buddha was or what he actually taught.


Hence today's guest, the venerable Bhiku Boatie. He was born Jeffrey Block in Brooklyn, became a Buddhist monk as a young man, and then went on to become one of the premier translators of Buddhist texts. In this conversation, we talk about why it can be so helpful for meditators to know what the Buddha taught, how these teachings survive for centuries before they were ever written down, how he makes sense of the teachings on karma and rebirth, what kind of person the Buddha was, what kind of daily schedule he kept, and what the Buddha thought about staying engaged in politics, which seems pretty relevant right now.


Just to say before we started rolling, I asked Kubota, how should I address him? Should I call big, should I call him Bodey? And he said that many people call him Banti, which is a term that is used in Buddhist circles to address monks and translates roughly into venerable sir. But don't get the wrong idea, as you will hear, because bote does not take himself too seriously. So here we go with Bicke Bote. OK, Banty, great to meet you, or at least to meet you virtually, I'm glad to be here.


I really appreciate your time. And as I said to you before we started rolling. I've been hearing about you for years. Your name comes up in Dharma talks that I've heard in Dharma Halls over the years. So it's a pleasure to finally meet you.


So first thing I'd like to do here is to get some background here. I'd be curious. I know you're a Jewish kid from New York. How did you end up in Sri Lanka translating the words of the Buddha?


Well, I became interested in Buddhism during perhaps my junior year in college, I went to Brooklyn College and this was about the end of 1964, beginning of 1965. I just come across some books on Buddhism in the college bookstore, and then they sort of stuck in my mind. And that out of curiosity, then I picked up a few and read and that sort of increased my interest in Buddhism.


And I even tried to do some meditation on my own, but it didn't lead to very quick results. And so I gave up on it. But then in 1966, then I went to graduate school in Claremont Claremont Graduate University in California. And in the second semester that I was there, this was the time of the Vietnam War. So a Buddhist monk from Vietnam came to study at the same university and came to live in the same residence hall where I was living.


And so I became friends with him and he became my first Buddhist teacher and gave me my initial guidance and meditation. And in fact, I was ordained as a novice monk in the Vietnamese system under him. And we wound up living together in Claremont and staying together for three years. But then he went back to Vietnam. The following year, I met some monks from Sri Lanka who were passing through the Los Angeles area, and I became friendly with one of them.


And when I decided that I wanted to go to Sri Lanka to become a monk, then I wrote to him and he directed me to an elder Sri Lankan monk for ordination and training. And so then I wrote to this elder Sri Lankan monk and he invited me to come to his monastery. So in 1972, then I came to Sri Lanka and I was ordained into the Theravada order. And then I studied poly and Buddhism under this elder Sri Lankan monk.


And then originally, I had no plan or intention to become a translator, that was quite far from my mind, but I did want to study the Pali language in order to be able to read the text in the original. But in order to understand what I was reading, I would translate the text for myself. And at a certain point then I show them to some elder in elder German monk who is living in Sri Lanka for a long time.


And he encouraged me to do translation. And he was at that time, he was the editor for the Buddhist publication Society, which was based in Kandy, Sri Lanka. And so he, in a sense, assigned me my first translation project, which goes back 19. Yeah, I started 1976, and then from that time on, then I became a translator. So the audience for this show, I think most of the people listen to the show are meditators at varying levels of experience, and I think a lot of people might be wondering, well, how important is it for us to know much about the utterances of the Buddha?


I say it depends on the purpose for which one wants to use the meditation, meditation can serve various purposes. So if one is using the meditation just to be able to develop some calm and balance and mental stability in one's day to day life or excuse me, to become 10 percent happier, I think this would work quite successfully without knowing very much about the Buddhist teachings. But if one wants to.


Sort of Scituate was practiced within the framework of the Buddhist teaching and then to pursue it for the ultimate aim for which the Buddha taught the practice of meditation, then I say is quite critically important to know at least the basic framework of the Buddha's teaching and the basic concepts and ideas of the Buddha's teaching, which doesn't have to become a Buddha scholar. But one should be able to say where the practice of meditation fits within the broad overview of the Buddhist teachings.


I'm going to say a bunch of words here. Hopefully we'll all coalesce into something approaching a question.


But I just recall in my early days as a meditator when which, by the way, wasn't that long ago, honestly, I was maybe 10 or 11 years ago when I first started going on meditation retreats, and I'd hear people who seemed otherwise sane and quote unquote, normal, you know, people up on the front cushion giving the Dharma talk in the evenings at a retreat. I would hear them talking with such reverence about the words of the Buddha.


And I'd be sitting there, you know, as somebody who was raised by a pair of atheist scientists, I had some something of a negative reaction to all of the talk of the Buddha thinking, you know, I didn't sign up for a religion or some sort of inarguable foundational texts from the Bronze Age that I'm supposed to, you know, except lock, stock and barrel. And, you know, I don't even know if the Buddha really existed. There are no pictures of the guy.


They didn't even make any artwork of him until hundreds of years after he died. So and by the way, even if his teachings weren't even written down until hundreds of years after he died.


So all of this doubt would come up in my mind. So what would you say to somebody who might have the kind of skeptical stance that I had back then? I say that is good to approach the teachings with that kind of skeptical stance, but what I would say is that sort of the healthy approach to the teaching to the Dharma is not to jump into it, you know, like diving into a deep pool and just casting all doubts and reservations to the side, but to approach it in a spirit of critical inquiry.


And the way I normally advise people who are not prepared to take on board the whole shenanigans of all of the accumulated Buddhist teachings begin with those principles of the teachings that one can apply to one's own life and see how they work within one's own life. And what I find to be especially useful as the advice that the Buddha gave to these people, a group of people who are called to Columbus, which is to say.


The quality of one's mind and the quality of one's life when one is repeatedly acting under the dominance of greed, hatred and anger, ignorance or delusion on the one side and the quality of one's mind, the quality of one's life, when one is acting in ways that are at least relatively free from the grip of greed, hatred and delusion, that is when one is practicing generosity, loving and compassionate concern for others and making some attempt to gain a wise understanding of certain principles applicable to our lives.


And so on that basis, one can then see that, or at least I hope one would say that once life becomes happier, more fulfilling to the extent that one. Breaks free from the grip of greed, hatred and delusion, and then one should have the confidence or trust that this practice that one undertakes, that the Buddha teaches will lead one to increasingly attenuate the dominance of greed, hatred and delusion over one's mind to a point where those qualities or those states completely fall away, which is the state of liberation to which the Buddha points.


And so when approached said in a somewhat what I call a spirit of critical inquiry, but not remaining stuck in a kind of rigid. Persistent or insistent skepticism? That spirit that you described right there is actually what allowed me to get over the hump because the Buddha and you'll correct me here, but what I've heard is that the Buddha was said to have said that you shouldn't take everything or anything I'm saying on face value should try it out for yourself.


So I never felt like I had to automatically subscribe to this notion of rebirth, you know, when I've never seen any direct evidence for myself.


However, I do try out his practical techniques that you have been enumerating, for example, like in the Eightfold Path. I do try those out and I do see in the end of one laboratory of my own mind that they seem to improve my inner weather. And of course, that leads to improving my relationships outside of my skull and has sort of a virtuous cycle effect where as my relationships get better, my inner weather gets better, et cetera, et cetera.


So that has gotten me from a position of sort of vague hostility vis a vis the Buddha to deep interest. But you mentioned liberations.


I want to talk about that because that's a big concept. And one of the things that I really got hung up on and still, if I'm being honest, I occasionally get hung up on to this day.


So when the Buddha and the Buddhists generally talk about establishing mindfulness in a variety of ways, you know, generating a kind of self awareness that allows us to be less yanked around by our emotions, I'm on board for that. But he's also explicitly and repeatedly saying that this train has a destination and it's called liberation, otherwise known as enlightenment. So what exactly is he promising when he talks about liberation?


But I would say is that. Maybe there are two stages or two dimensions to liberation and they're sort of causally connected and to understand the concept of liberation, we do have to at this point bring in the idea of rebirth. And it's an idea which I would say that, OK, the way I approach it in my own experience, beginning with the spirit of critical inquiry, looking at those aspects of the teaching that I could actually put into practice in my own personal life and experience the benefits for myself.


Then it reached a point for me where I was willing to place trust in what the Buddha says about dimensions of reality, dimensions of experience, dimensions of existence that I cannot see for myself, that I cannot confirm for myself. But I'm willing to place trust in the Buddha as one who has personally seen these other dimensions and who is teaching them on the basis of his own experience. And what the Buddha teaches is that there are multiple realms of existence and that there is a process that we call rebirth by which the mind, the process of mind does not come to a complete end with the death of the physical body, but that the process of mind continues on in a new existence in any of the multiple realms of existence and the place where it takes rebirth, the particular form it assumes in the new existence is governed by our volitional actions are morally significant, volitional or intentional actions.


And so I was willing to place trust in the Buddhist teachings on the workings of karma and rebirth. And I also found that those teachings can be supported by I can say that it can be proven by rational reflection, but to me they make sense on the basis of what I would call a reasoned moral reflection. And I like to use a certain contrast of two cases to support this point, to be my examples of my moral reasoning. On the one side, we have a chief executive of a weapon manufacturing corporation that produces bombs, missiles and so forth, which his company is selling to another country to be used to blast to smithereens some poor, defenseless country and taking the lives of maybe thousands of civilians.


But this corporate executive is making millions on the weapons sales.


And the other side, we have maybe a doctor say with Doctors Without Borders, who goes to this country to help people who have been injured to the bombs that have been manufactured by this weapons CEO. OK, now. The doctor who goes to help the victims is killed by a bomb blast. And the weapons manufacturer, at a certain point, he dies. OK, if there is no continuation of life beyond this present one. No continuation of consciousness and any form, no operation of a moral law operating below the threshold of perception, then when the self sacrificing doctor and the weapons manufacturer die for both of them, it's game over blank, complete nothingness.


And that's a possibility. I can say we can't completely rule that out. But I would say that that possibility sort of contradicts what I would call the deep moral intuition that there has to be some principle of call it ethical justice operating in this world, a law of moral justice that ensures that our intentional deeds bring about their appropriate retribution in some form. And so that law that connects our intentional deeds with the consequences that we rape is the law of karma.


And one aspect of the working of the law of karma is that our intentional actions govern the rebirth process. Propelling the stream of consciousness into a new existence in which in that new existence, we then reap the results, the consequences of the morally significant intentional deeds that we perform in this life. So ensuring that the weapons manufacturer. Who thrives to the production and sale of the weapons will meet the consequences of his actions and that the self-sacrifice sacrificing doctor will meet good retribution in the future.


OK, so that is some reasoning that I rely upon to justify the teaching of rebirth. There are, I would also say, empirical cases which have been studied and investigated. By a few courageous and maybe non orthodox researchers, perhaps you're familiar with some of this research.


Yeah, there's some kid who is said to have been born reciting ancient verse or something like that.


Yeah, I know him in Sri Lanka. Everybody refers to him as a kid, but now he must be in his early 50s. But there's a lot of research that was done by the professor at the University of Virginia, Professor Ian Stevenson, who published about five volumes of his studies of reported Rebirth cases. And his work has been continued by another professor called Jim Tucker. I think he's also at the University of Virginia. So anyway, this is to provide the background to understanding the concept of liberation.


So I said that there are two aspects to the attainment of liberation. One is the aspect which is attainable right here and now in this present life, and that is the elimination, the complete elimination of the mental afflictions which we call the defilement Salkey Leisa, that govern the process of rebirth, that keep the stream of consciousness bound to the cycle of repeated births, aging and death. And so what the Buddha teaches basically is that it is craving and ignorance or from another angle, greed, hatred and delusion that keep us bound to the cycle of rebirth, of repeated existence.


So at the first level, Libération means the liberation of the mind from the defilement or the fetters, the bonds that hold us in bondage to the cycle of repeated birth and death. And then at the second level, it means the liberation from the cycle of birth and death itself. So there's a period when attains liberation, of course, one continues to live out the rest of one's normal life process, whether it be 20 years, 30 years, a few weeks, whatever.


But then when the one who attains liberation and this life passes away, then there's no further birth and therefore no further aging and deaths. But the ending of the cycle of birth and death. And what happens then? Yeah, that is called the attainment of final nirvana. But it said to be a state that is beyond the power of conceptualization and description. And so the Buddha usually refers to it in negative terms as being the unborn on aging undying unconditioned state.


It's not like a continued individual existence in the heavenly realm, which is one of the realms he yeah, you know, the Buddha recognizes a multiplicity of realms.


So we call heaven or divine realms. But those are part of the songs are a part of the cycle of repeated birth and death.


So even better than going to a heavenly realm would be to escape the cycle altogether.


Yeah, yeah. You know, the life in the heavens is considered in many ways superior to human existence because the lifespan is much longer. The experience of happiness and joy is much more intense. The celestial beings have beautiful, radiant bodies, much more power and freedom. But the lifespan, they're less maybe for thousands or even millions of years. But eventually it comes to an end and that is back to kindergarten, back to the ordeals of high school, applying to college, getting a job, getting married and having children start all over again.


OK, so I'm going to try to channel. I often joke that I have this magical ability that I don't actually have to channel the thoughts of my audience. So as I'm sitting here listening to you, I feel like I can kind of hear some objections arising in the minds of my listeners who might be thinking, all right, you know, I'm on board with you, Harris, when you talk about meditation or even a little bit of Buddhism.


But, you know, maybe I have an allergy to traditional religion or maybe I had sort of trauma involved with my religious upbringing. And I don't want to be inveigled into some new religion.


And now you're talking about hele realms and heaven realms and final nirvana and, you know, is so I just want to confirm with you that and this is what I always tell people about Buddhism when I'm talking about it, which is that you don't have to believe any of this stuff in order to practice the more sort of immediately verifiable aspects of this. Call it a religion or whatever you want or applied philosophy. Call it whatever you want. You don't you know, this stuff is here for you to critically analyze and maybe experience at some deep end of the pool, but you don't need to buy it lock, stock and barrel in the Buddhist teaching, there's no compulsion to believe anything.


So the Buddha doesn't demand that people who listen to his teachings have to believe everything that he teaches as a basis for practicing the teachings. So a person who finds elements of factors of value within the Buddha's teaching can undertake, for example, the basic ethical teachings, the five precepts, the ten ways of wholesome conduct of wholesome action they could undertake, the practice of the meditation, some of the meditation methods, practice of mindfulness, mindfulness of breathing, mindfulness of sensations in the body, or the practice of the immeasurable, you know, the boundless, loving, kindness, compassion, altruistic joy, equanimity.


So I could undertake all of those practices so that will, I think, enrich, ennoble and reward one's life and bring a lot of sort of blessings and benefits in one's day to day life, both internally and in one's relationships with others. But well, I would say is that if a person aspires for the ultimate goal of the Buddha's teaching, then of course that ultimate goal only makes sense when it's seen against the background of these other principles that the Buddha teaches.


And can you explain again? Because I am not sure I fully grasp it and I apologize. Why liberation is contingent upon rebirth, you know? Well, I said that there are two aspects to liberation. So the first is the liberation, which is experienced here and now in this life, and that is the complete and irreversible liberation of the mind from the qualities or states that we call defilement, greed, hatred and delusion, or from another angle called ignorance and craving.


So that is the liberation experience here and now in this life itself. And that is the sort of preliminary or precursor for the ultimate final liberation, which is the end of the cycle of repeated birth and deaths, the end of sunk. Sara Songza is the wandering on in birth and death. And so aspiring for the liberation from Songza. For liberation from the cycle of birth and death, it seems, would only make sense if one accepts that we are living within.


This framework of Sungkar within this condition of being bound to a cycle of repeated birth and death. But couldn't one master meditator, an adept. Attain, you know, uproot greed, hatred and delusion without ever buying into the metaphysics of it. Is that not possible?


I don't know what's possible, but not impossible, but. OK, in my understanding, there are different degrees and overcoming these developments of greed, hatred and delusion. And so one could I would say it's probably possible to overcome them provisionally or temporarily without buying into the framework of karma and rebirth. And so through particular types of meditation practice, one could. Developed states of mind in which those qualities, greed, hate and delusion don't invade and dominate the mind, but whether one could actually uproot them at the most fundamental level so that there's not even a trace or a latent disposition towards them in the mind without.


Situating one's practice within the framework of the understanding of karma and rebirth. To me, it doesn't seem feasible. I don't want to make a judgment and say it's impossible. But I just don't see that would require such a determined effort. But I don't know how a person would have that effort unless they saw the need to break free from the cycle of birth and deaths. I won't make you the referee of enlightenment, but I appreciate the answer. Let me back up now to the Buddhist teachings.


Just having imbibed a certain amount of Buddhism over the years, it seems reasonably supportable that the Buddha was a mortal who trod the Earth twenty six hundred years ago and said a lot of stuff to a lot of people.


In what form did he leave behind his teachings? Because I know it wasn't written down. So where are we getting all of this from?


OK, the Buddha lived and taught for a period from his enlightenment in the age of 35 to his passing away the age of 80. So for a period of 45 years, he traveled over the Ganges plain in northeast India teaching. And there would have been. Probably companies of monks and perhaps nuns as well, who specialized in learning the teachings by memory, because at this time in India it was considered in a way sacrosanct to write down spiritual teachings. So the Vedas, the scriptures of the Brahmins were preserved and transmitted through memory and oral transmission.


And similarly, the Buddhist teachings would have been preserved and transmitted through oral transmission. And so, according to commentaries, there were groups of monks who specialized in memorizing collections of the teachings, and they would train their younger disciples to learn the teachings by memory. And this process of oral transmission continued for roughly 300, 400 years till it said that in Sri Lanka, after the teachings passed from India to Sri Lanka in the first century B.C., the teachings were written down as a complete collection, which then became the Pali canon.


So I have to say, I have a little bit of skepticism that this was the first time that the teachings were actually written down, particularly some of the later books of the canon, which are rather voluminous and rather complex in their structure. It seems to me very likely that those texts were written down and preserved in written form, though it might have been in Sri Lanka in the first century B.C. that an entire canonical collection was prepared. And what are the parts of the canon?


So within the Theravada or poly tradition, the tradition that uses a Polish language, we divide the canonical text into three major groups. One is called Viniar, which is the book of discipline, primarily monastic discipline, the rules and regulations governing the monastic order. Then the second major part is the suitably Tuka, which is the collection of the Buddha's discourses. And then the third part is called the Abbey Dharma Betka, which is a collection of sort of philosophical treatises that are attempts at systematizing the Buddhist teachings.


But for a person who just wants to become acquainted.


With the Buddhist teachings as the most direct way, then the division of the canon that would be of most concern to them is the soon to be Tuka, the collection of discourses.


And these are discourses, essentially speeches that the Buddha gave as he traveled around the Ganges and they were recorded inside the mind of his cousin Ananda, who was his assistant.


Well, Ananda said to be the one that received all of the teachings, though it could have been when the Buddha spoke to others and Ananda wasn't present, then others would have reported the teachings that they heard to Ananda. But Ananda had an extremely.


Well trained mind mine with a great capacity for memorization, and so he was the one who preserved all of the teachings in his memory and then recited them at the first Buddhist council, the first Buddhist council on being a meeting of those held with monks several months after the Buddha passed away to collect and record his teachings for posterity.


So within the Sutta Nikias that the suits the suit to be Tuka, literally the tasket of the discourses. OK, so within the basket of the discourses, there's further division within there, yeah, yeah.


So that's got to be taco's then divided into five collections, five subordinate collections. And so we have called the long discourses and poly degan is higher than the middle length discourses. So those two collections use the length as a distinguishing factor. Then the next two major collections are generally shorter discourses, but organized differently. One is the sum used in the case which groups discourses together primarily on the basis of topic or theme. And so we have different themes and then under those themes.


A large number of a greater or lesser number of discourses might be collected, for example, or would be collected discourses on the four Noble Truths collected, discourses on the Noble Eightfold Path collected, discourses on the five aggregates collected, discourses on the sixth sense spaces collected, discourses on the four foundations of mindfulness and so forth. So that is the third division, the. Connected discourses of the Buddha, then the fourth major collection is called the Uncoated Only Archaia, which might be translated roughly as the numerical collection and that collection groups discourses together.


On the basis of a certain principle that played a major role in oral transmission, and that is the number of items. By way of which the discourse was organized, and so if you've ever given a discourse on the dumber, you know that it becomes very easy if you write down a little outline with a number of items, four items, five items, six items, then you have the basis for the discourse. And so these cities are structured around the number of items that frames the discourse.


And so we have the Book of one's. That says that there is one thing that leads to great benefit. One thing that has to be trained and mastered, one thing that leads to great harm. So that's the book of one's than the book of twos, threes, fours up to the book of Elevons. More of my conversation with Bhiku Bodey coming up right after this. Staying informed has never been more important, the information is coming in us faster than ever.


So how do you make sense of it all? Start here. Hey, I'm Brad Milkie from ABC News. And every weekday we will break down the latest headlines in just 20 minutes. Straightforward reporting, dynamic interviews and analysis from experts you can trust. Always credible, always solid. Start here from ABC News 20 minutes every weekday on your smart speaker or your favorite podcast app. OK, Tony, you have spent a life for much of a life marinating in these discourses, is this stuff like a good read?


Because I've read some of the Sutta, some of the scriptures, and it's pretty repetitive and dense.


It's not like reading a spy novel.


Yeah, yeah. Well, first, I think one has to remember that these are oral discourses. And so the Buddha would have known that the way to get a point across is to repeat. The basic themes of his teaching, wherever he goes, he will dwell on the same basic themes and. There's a great deal of repetitiveness within the discourses and then individual discourses within an individual suit, you'll find that same thing might be said at length about each of the major terms within the discourse.


So we come to the five abrogates the Buddha will expound on one thing by way of bodily form, and then he'll say the same thing by way of feeling the same thing by way of perception, the same thing by way of mental formations, the same thing by way of consciousness.


So the way most additions and translators, including myself, will treat that repetitiveness is to fill out the exposition for the first item and the last item and for the middle items just to use the ellipsis points. But I think also it's possible that a lot of the repetition did not come from the Buddha himself, but possibly because the communities, the monastic communities that were charged with preserving and transmitting the teachings would repeat the same basic text over and over in order to reinforce the points in their memories.


Because they were chanting this stuff. Exactly, because they were chanting.


And it's quite different when one is chanting to oneself or in a group and one word is reading by lamplight silently on one's own. Having read and translated so much of this material, what shines through to you about the Buddha as a person? Do you get a sense of his character?


To myself, it seems almost as if it's very hard to see the Buddha as a almost like a person, maybe because I've been exposed to the teaching so often over so many years and have been reading, studying and translating that it comes almost like he's the voice of sort of the universe's voice of truth, like an impersonal voice of truth, just speaking about the way things are. But maybe the way the Buddha comes through as a person is seen not so clearly in the Souters themselves, but rather in the narrative literature which is preserved in the stratum of the commentaries rather than in the canonical literature.


And they're what strikes me is sort of in the background, as always, I would say the Buddha's great compassion and his wish to be able to meet people where they are and teach them and elevate them and instruct them. By way of their own dispositions, their own life situations, their own modes of understanding, there is some famous examples of this. Like one is the story. It's probably one of the most popular stories in the Buddhist tradition of Kissa.


Go to me with the name of this woman who had a little child, a baby, not a child, but a little infant who was the delight of her life. And then the child got sick and died. But she couldn't accept the fact that her child had died.


And so she traveled all over from doctor to doctor, asking each of the doctors, please help my child to recover from this illness. But each doctor would look at the child and say, I'm sorry, but your child is dead. But she refused to accept the reality that her child had died. And then eventually somebody directed her to the Buddha. And the Buddha didn't say to her, your child is dead, but rather the Buddha used a kind of skillful means that are expedient.


He told her, I can revive your child, but I need to prepare the medicine for him and to prepare that medicine. What I need are some mustard seeds. Can you go get some mustard seeds for me? And so she said, yes, easy to get the mustard seed. But then the Buddha said, But there's one further condition. And that is you have to get the mustard seeds from a house where nobody has ever died. And so she took off very happily, thinking she could get the seeds easily so she would go to the first house.


Can you give me some mustard seeds? The people said yes. Then she asked, But has anybody ever died here? Then they would say, it's a little bit like today where we have the covid-19. Well, our grandfather passed away here two months ago. Next house, we lost an uncle, next house. The woman says, I lost my husband. The next house. They say, Oh, we lost the cousin. And so by going from house to house, she came to realize that there's no house.


That has been completely spared from death and that her own child has died and then she came back to the Buddha, when she came back, the Buddha said, well, did you get the mustard seeds for me? And she said, Now, sir, I'm finished with the business of the mustard seeds. Give me a refuge. And then she became a bikini, a nun, she buried the child, became a nun, and then she achieved enlightenment and gained liberation.


So that's just like one example of the Buddha's use of skillful means. But when you look at the narrative literature, I find so many examples in which the Buddha, you know, from one angle, he seems to be quite cool and dispassionate and economists. But you could say that he's always taking into account the needs, the life situations, the capacities for understanding of the people who come to him and guiding them in the most effective ways. So there's a difference between the discourses and the narrative literature and are we sure that the narrative literature, otherwise known as the commentaries, are we sure that this was actually contemporaneous or was it myth that accreted?


Know, I would say by conjecture would be that there was a lot of material in the narrative literature of the commentaries, which was devised during a later period. But what I would say is probably. Also, there's a lot of material preserved in these narratives that is factual, and in any case, this even if we don't take all of these stories at face value as being historical truths, but they illuminate the way the tradition looked at the Buddha's capacity for teaching the particular methodology that the Buddha used, that he would adjust and adapt the teaching to the needs and capacities of the people he was instructing.


We actually see some examples of this within the cities themselves, some of the stories that have been preserved in the suiters. Like, for example, is the story of ugly Malha, ugly Marlos, what we would call today, a serial killer who would kill people just at random and cut off their fingers, and then he was stringing the fingers together. He would dry the fingers, cut off the flesh, dry them, and then string them together into a necklace that he would wear around his neck.


And finally. He came across the border and thought that he could kill the Buddha and cut off his finger, but the Buddha used some of his psychic powers to prevent ugly Mala from catching up to him till Uncle Imola, then came to realize that the Buddha had come to him out of compassion for him in order to direct him away from the self-destructive way of life and to transform him. Do you believe that's literally true? I say that there's a lot of embellishments in the story, but there must be some historical core to it.


Do we have a sense of what his day to day was like? Again, this comes and the commentary is the commentary provides a kind of daily schedule with a normal schedule for the Buddha. So the way the schedule is laid out and the commentary after waking up.


The Buddha will enter into a meditative attainment called the meditation of Great Compassion, in which he spreads the web for the rays of his compassion over the world. Then he would. Arouse. This supernormal vision to look out, to see whether there are any people within the range of his residents that needed his help, and if there was such people, then he would make it a point to go to them in the course of the day. OK, so then when morning comes, when daylight comes, then unless people are bringing the meal to the monastery, he would go out on his arms round to collect the food, which was the normal practice during that period.


Sometimes he would go alone, sometimes with a group of monks. Then he would come back, take the meal. After the meal, he would give some instructions to the monks, some exhortation. Then he would take a little rest. Then in the afternoon he would give some further instructions to the monks or he would spend some time in meditation. And if there was a need, then he would go to the town or village to give instructions to people.


Then usually in the late afternoon or early evening, if he was at a major monastic center, then people would come to the monastery to listen to a discourse on the Dharma. Then after the discourse, the people would go home, he would spend another period and meditation and then towards a later part of the night, then he would give some further instructions and guidance to the monks. Then everybody would go off. They would go off to their own huts and cottages for their own practice.


And then when everything quiets down late in the night, then said that the Davies these would be the beings from the heavenly realms, that they would come to the Buddha's presence to ask questions, and then the Buddha would give instructions to the Davies, to the deities. And then late at night, and the Buddha would spend some more time in meditation and then lay down and sleep only for about three hours at night, and then he would be up again the next morning.


So that would be roughly the daily routine. You know, when I asked about his character, you talked about his compassion and his tailoring of his teaching to the audience, but if memory serves, there were some times where he got a little.


Annoyed where he was. I remember some quotes from some somebody asked him a question and he said, Ignorant man, X, Y and Z or you or I've heard stories of him, you know, not liking it when he had a rock in his shoe or going off and meditating, you know, on his own because the monks were annoying.


So is it true that he had the capacity to get into a bit of a bad mood if one takes sort of the Orthodox standpoint on the Buddha?


Well, we have to say that in those situations, he is not. Being inundated by ill will or by anger or by displeasure, but he is speaking. And disagreeable ways, so that Monk is a way of correcting that monk or sort of waking him up from his negligence, from his obstinacy. I don't remember any place where he would have gotten a rock and a shoe because it seemed that the Buddha didn't wear shoes or I don't even think he wore sandals.


But he did get. Wounded by a splinter. And he did speak in ways that seem harshly to us, to his cousin. Who is a monk named David Doctor, who is ambitious and tried to overthrow the Buddha in order to get control of the monastic order for himself. So. The language does seem to us it seems rather harsh, but, you know, looking at it from the way we understand, the Buddha would not have been motivated by ill will.


I'm curious, Steve, for you, as somebody who spent so much time with this material and now I'm referring particularly to the suttas to the discourse as to his actual teachings to explore maybe aspects of the teachings that speak to you in particular.


And I read a revealing interview with you where you described in your I think it must have been in your early encounters with. This material where you were wondering whether, in fact, the Buddha was perfectly enlightened and then you came across. An area of the teachings where he was talking about lay life, he was giving instructions to regular people, and you thought that was particularly impressive. Yeah, that is so because initially sort of what attracted me to the Buddhist teachings were the very deep philosophical teachings that go against the grain of our ordinary way of understanding things like the Buddhist teaching of Ainata non self, the absence of any substantial, independently existent ego entity, the teaching of dependent origination.


That phenomena arise in a network of causes and conditions where sort of overthrows the notion of self subsistent substances. So those were the initial teachings and practices of the deep meditative states. But then I came across this rather long discourse in the long discourses of the Buddha. It's called The Seagull like a suit. It's in the Kanichi, a suit, a number thirty one, I think it was. The Buddha speaks to a young man who's not a monk, a young layman, and he's explaining the proper relationships that should hold between people in their everyday life.


The duties of parents to their children, children to the parents, husband to the wife, the wife to the husband, employer to his employees, the employees to the employer. Teacher to students. Students, the teacher. And each one is done by enumerating five or six ways of conduct that one should behave in relation to the others.


And this made a very, very strong impression on me that somebody who has reached like the highest levels of meditative realization, the deepest philosophical insights into the nature of existence, could still have such a thorough, clear and morally uplifting understanding of the kind of ways of conduct that should unite people in their everyday lives in the context of a general society. So I could say that the teaching was not just for renunciations who have left the world, but had so much relevance for people living within the world.


And particularly in our own time, in our own age, when. There's so much emphasis is on competition coming out on top, besting the other person. But these principles that the Buddha lays down are intended to promote kindness, generosity, harmony and mutual respect among people. You mentioned Ainata or not self. Which is what the. For many people is one of the trickiest aspects of Buddhism, what exactly and maybe this is going to be like a impossible it's going to seem simple to pose this question and maybe be just basically impossible to answer without 17 hours.


But is there a way to describe to laypeople what exactly the Buddha was talking about when he argued that we aren't? I think you said before, like self sufficient ego entities.


OK, well, I say like one of the primary manifestations of ignorance or delusion and the mind is the notion, which is often articulated, but just sort of resting in the background as a tacit assumption that underlies so much of our thinking and conduct the idea that at the core of our being, there is an independent self subsistent entity, lasting, substantial, enduring entity which we identify as myself. What I truly am and what the Buddha teaches us, that that idea of a enduring self, a self subsistent entity, an independently existent entity, is a delusion.


And when we look at our experience and that idea of the self, it seems to be a noer behind the acts of knowledge and experience or behind our experience and agent behind our actions, a subject behind our feelings and perceptions. So what the Buddha teaches is that when we investigate our own experience using the tools of mindfulness and investigative wisdom, we cannot find that self subsistent ego entity, but rather what we find is a constant process of ever changing events, which can be the bodily events or the physical process which we call the body, and then the mental process, which again can be dissected into different components, components of feeling, perception, the acts of volition, and then the awareness of this or consciousness.


And so that is what is actually present this constellation or this collaborative, interwoven fabric of these different constituents of experience which are always arising and passing away and which all exist in dependence on conditions. When one sees deeply into this, then it knocks away that underlying premise, that assumption, that grasping of the idea that we have a self subsistent ego entity.


Why would I want to get rid of that? Well, what the Buddha says is that idea of the self subsistent ego entity is basically at the underlying root of suffering. It's sort of it's the underlying basis for craving, since with the tacit assumption of the self, we're always seeking to acquire more and more to satisfy what we take to be the needs of that self was looked at critically, means to give some kind of substantial identity to this nebulous, undefinable notion of the self.


So we're constantly trying to acquire more and more belongings, property position, power status. And because we can never satisfy the needs of that self, we're constantly in a state of discontent. And when things go contrary to the. Assumption of what we need to satisfy that self, then it manifests or becomes to expression as actually felt or experiential suffering.


You know, I first came across this idea. I thought, well, if I give up this self. If even if that were possible, if I bet for me right now, if I just say hypothetically I was in a position to do that, what would I be then? What I just be sort of a lump. But the Buddha who is said to have achieved this did a lot in the world.


He did an enormous amount. He came up with all of these ideas and taught them effectively, built a whole body of monks and nuns. He also, by the way, I'm not telling you anything you don't know, spent a lot of time with other people who were having an impact on the world, including merchants and kings, et cetera, et cetera. So how do we compute all of this?


You know, first, I don't think the idea of non self undermines and contradicts the notion of the reality of what I would call the empirical person. What it negates is the idea that within or behind a person's personal identities, there's some kind of persistent, substantial basis for personal identity. It doesn't negate our identity as a person. And so as an individual, we continue to exist. And in fact, what I would say is that the notion of self, the way it's ordinarily grasped upon and clung to constructs of personality, it becomes a source of limitation rather than a source of freedom and ability.


And so when that notion of the grasping of I and mind is eliminated from the mind, then many of the deep potentials of the mind come to flowering and fulfillment. And so then one becomes much freer to realize one's own deeper potentialities. The potentialities of that not so. Joseph Goldstein to me, the great meditation teacher, Joseph Goldstein, who I'm sure you do.


He's my teacher and he sent me a line from a poem that he came across recently. And I think the line was something to the effect of I'm tired of walking around pretending to be me.


And so, as I understand it, the way Buddhists talk about this paradox is that on the relative level, on the level of the day to day, you do exist.


Of course. Yeah, definitely. But on the ultimate level, if you really look in a careful, sustained way at the activity of your mind, you will see there's nobody home. Instead, it's the interplay of the aggregates that's that you've referenced the various constituent parts of our experience, which, when blended in, blur together, make it seem like we're in a solid movie. But in fact, if you can look carefully enough, you'll see it's 24 frames moving at a high rate of speed.


Exactly. So one last aspect I want to ask you about where we're doing this interview in the days after. I don't know if you know this, but there was a presidential campaign in the United States of America recently. I'm kidding. Of course, you do know that you and I are talking in its aftermath.


And something I hear a lot from listeners to this show is don't pollute my beautiful meditation practice with politics, Harris. Don't come on here talking about this stuff. I don't want to hear it. I come here for a refuge, et cetera, et cetera. And I'm continually sort of hopefully gently and maybe sometimes effectively trying to kind of push back against that a little bit. And what I know, which is limited about the Buddha's life, was that he was engaged in the great events of his day.


And what I know about your life is that you are engaged in the events of our day. So could you say something about all of that?


Yeah, this was another thing that struck me in the early days when I became acquainted with the Buddhist teachings was that even though he was a monk who had withdrawn from the world and taught monastics, who had also renounced the world, but he continued to look back at the world and gave advice not only to lay people living there day to day lives within the context of a family and community. But he also gave advice to rulers, to kings and the appropriate way to govern their realms, and established a model of kingship which could serve as an ideal towards which kings should aspire.


Because in the Buddha's time in the major states of northern India, monarchical model of governance was coming into dominance. And so there were two powerful states, the states of Kosala and the state of Magadha. So the Buddha established a model of what he called the Will Turning Monarch, the Raja Chakravarti, whose rule is justified not on the basis of his own power and authority, but he has to rule in accordance with the Dharma. The Dharma understood not as the Buddha's philosophical teachings, but as a law, an impersonal, universal law of righteousness, goodness and truth.


And so the ruler has to rule for the benefit of all within his realm, said even for the good and welfare of the birds and beasts. And then the Buddhist texts give more detailed. Principles according to which the ruler should rule. And one of the main principles laid down is that he should ensure that there is no poverty within his rule. And so if there are poor people, the ruler should give them the means by which they can emerge from poverty and earn a decent living to support themselves and their families.


OK, so this is some of the principles that I found within the Buddhist teaching. And in my own life, at the time that I encountered Buddhism, this was during the time of the Vietnam War, I was a bit of an activist, especially in opposition to the Vietnam War. And it was not entirely from a purely disinterested altruism, but I was vulnerable to the draft at that time. I didn't want to be carried off and sent off to fight in Vietnam for a cause that I didn't believe in.


But anyway, when I encountered the Buddhist teaching, then I pretty much withdrew from social engagement and just focused on studying the Buddhist teachings and developing a meditation practice. But over the years and I began to feel more and more and need to sort of, in a sense, to come back to direct my back to the society of social events and to political events and to see what I could contribute from my perspective as a monk, deeply steeped in the Buddhist teachings.


So at least to provide and to advocate for the kinds of principles necessary to ameliorate some of the social and economic and political harms that we see so rampant today. What form has this engagement taken? I say that there are two main spheres I call these two spheres the side of charity or philanthropy and the side of fundamental transformation. So in the side of charity or philanthropy, this goes back to the 2008. Together with some of my students, we saw the need for Buddhists, you know, to step away from being completely involved in a personal private meditation practice and dharma studies and to take a more active role in the world.


And so together, we formed an organization called Buddhist Global Relief, which takes as a specific mission to address the problem of chronic hunger and malnutrition, which afflicts so many people in the world today. Maybe something like 800 million people suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition. And so we started as a small organization, and over the years we've increased the number and range of our projects. So now we have about 40 projects around the world that assist communities with the means to emerge from hunger and malnutrition, either through direct food aid, but also through addressing the roots, the underlying roots of hunger, which is poverty, and addressing poverty by providing girls the opportunity to go to school and complete their education, and providing women with the means to start livelihood projects to support their families.


So that is on the side of of charity, and I'm really very proud of the work of Buddhist global relief because we started in 2008 with just three projects and now we have 40 projects spread out from Mongolia, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka. Kenya, Malawi, Cameroon, Uganda, Haiti, Nicaragua and the United States itself. Yes, so that is one side and on the other side is what I call transformation. I mean, I can't play a very prominent role in that side, but I look at this as a need, at least from the standpoint of advocacy, because we have a political and economic system which favors a very small handful of powerful, very wealthy people.


And in this country, the United States, which is supposed to be the wealthiest country in human history, the most powerful country in human history, you know, we have like 40 percent of the population living either in poverty or close to the poverty line. And people, I think of something like. One out of six or one out of eight people are not getting sufficient food, so many, maybe 40 million people lack health care. And so as a Buddhist with a sense of conscience, I find the need to advocate for changes, fundamental changes in the economic and social system, and particularly maybe the most dangerous crisis that we're facing, at least in the long run, is that of climate change.


And the economic system is so structured at present that it becomes completely dependent on the use of fossil fuels. And the administration has been just pursuing opening up more and more land for exploration and extraction for oil and natural gas, which is just going to drive the climate crisis over the brink to the point where the consequences will reverberate for centuries and the future. Just one last question on this, do you ever struggle with or do you have advice for staying engaged with the issues of our time without becoming dysregulated dysregulated?


I mean, England's balance of mind.


Yeah, and losing one's step, getting out of touch with your capacity to be ethical, you know, relapsing into sort of cruelty or so much anxiety that you're not functioning at your best, et cetera, et cetera.


Well, I haven't found that myself. I think maybe because my commitment to the meditation practice sort of keeps me anchored and grounded in some degree of reasonable calm and equanimity. I have to admit, sometimes when I see the things that are taking place that does spur a kind of passion for change, but I would call this maybe a healthy kind of passion. I don't think that to behave ethically and to be committed to compassionate action, one always has to be very stable and peaceful and tranquil.


But one can come forward passionately and with determination and resolution while still having enough oversight over the working of one's mind that one doesn't get overthrown by that kind of passion that arises. I know I said last question a couple of times, what I actually mean it now, if those of us who are interested in learning more about what the Buddha taught, given how voluminous the teachings are, where would you recommend we start to dip a toe in here? I say, if one doesn't know anything about the Buddhist teachings, then who wants to just begin from scratch?


There are probably numbers of books out that give basic introductions to the Buddhist teaching. The one that was most popular that goes back even to the late 1950s was called what the Buddha taught by a Sri Lankan monk named Walpole, a Rahula. So for many people, that has provided the first introduction to the fundamental teachings of the Buddha. There were probably many other books out there that deal with the basics of the teachings. I don't suggest beginning by going into the canonical texts because one could easily get lost in those.


But to begin with an expository book about Buddhism and for a more scholarly approach, there is a book, but it's a scholarly approach. But it's not so densely academic that an ordinary person would be deterred by it as by Rupert Gayton, who's now the president of the Polytech Society. I think it's called the foundations of Buddhism. We'll provide links to these books in the show notes here for listeners, but it's been a pleasure to meet you and I'm grateful to you for giving us so much time.


Thank you so much.


OK, thank you. I was glad to participate in this discussion. Big thanks to become company and big thanks as well to the folks who work so hard to put this show together. Samuel Johns is our senior producer, T.J. Cashmeres. Our producer Jules Dodson is our A.P. Our sound designer is Matt Boydton from Ultraviolet Audio. Maria Wartell is our production coordinator. We get a ton of massively helpful input from colleagues such as Jen Point, Nick Toby, Ben Ruben and Liz Levin.


And finally, as always, big thank you to my ABC News comrades Brian Kessler and Josh Cohen. We'll see you all on Wednesday with a fresh episode.


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