Arranged and Forced Marriages

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Buddhism / Current Affairs

Arranged Marriages

It is part of the Buddhist tradition for parents to find a suitable wife for their sons. This is given as one of the duties of Parents to their sons in the Siṅgāla Sutta.

“In five ways, householder’s son, the parents ministered to as the east by a son show him compassion. They restrain him from evil, they exhort him to do good, they train him to acquire skills, they seek a suitable wife for him, they give him his inheritance when the time comes. In these five ways, householder’s son, the parents ministered to as the east by a son show him compassion. Thus the eastern direction is made secure, peaceful, and free from dangers.”

It does not mention daughters, perhaps because the discourse was given by the Buddha to a young man, but the tradition seems to be just as much that parents seek a suitable husband for their daughters. As long as the parents’ role is only advisory, and not imposed on the children, all is well. It may be a much less hazardous method than dating apps, and meeting potential mates in bars and clubs, or on holidays for young people.

Forced Marriages

Definitely, young people should not be forced into marriage against their will, and parents should support their children if they choose their own marriage partner, or choose not to get married. Forcing someone into marriage is condoning rape, and rightly illegal in the UK. Nevertheless, it is difficult for young Asian people to reject the advice of their parents due to valid cultural reasons of respect for elders, gratitude, and loyalty to one’s parents.

Ancient Brahmin Practices

It seems clear that arranged marriages were the norm in the time of the Buddha. His chief female disciple, Visākhā, had an arranged marriage with the son of Migāra, who was a supporter of the naked ascetics. However, since she was a Stream-winner, and very strong-minded, she was able to convert her father-in-law and her husband to become followers of the Buddha, so all turn out for the good.

In the Soṇa Sutta, the Buddha taught the monks about the ancient Brahmin practices, wherein men and women only married by mutual affection. No deals were made to arrange marriages without consent of the young couple.

  1. “Monks, these five ancient Brahmin practices are now practised by dogs, not by Brahmins. What five?
    “Formerly, monks, Brahmins only coupled with Brahmin women, not with non-Brahmin women. Now, monks, Brahmins couple with Brahmin women and also with non-Brahmin women. Now, monks, dogs couple only with female dogs, not with other animals. This, monks is the first ancient practice of Brahmins that is now practised by dogs, not by Brahmins.
  2. “Formerly, monks, Brahmins only coupled with Brahmin women when they were in season, not when they were not in season. Now, monks, Brahmins couple with Brahmin women when they are in season, and also when they are not in season. Now, monks, dogs only couple with female dogs when they are in season, not when they are not in season. This, monks, is the second ancient practice of Brahmins that is now practised by dogs, not by Brahmins.
  3. “Formerly, monks, Brahmins neither bought nor sold Brahmin women, they lived together and bonded to continue the family line only through mutual affection. Now, monks, Brahmins also buy and sell Brahmin women, they do not live together and bond to continue the family line only through mutual affection. Now, monks, dogs neither buy nor sell female dogs, they live together and bond to continue the family line only through mutual affection. This, monks, is the third Brahmin practice that is now practised by dogs, not by Brahmins.
  4. “Formerly, monks, Brahmins did not store up wealth, grain, silver, and gold. Now, monks, Brahmins store up wealth, grain, silver, and gold. Now, monks, dogs do not store up wealth, grain, silver, or gold. This, monks, is the fourth ancient practice of Brahmins that is now practised by dogs, not by Brahmins.
  5. “Formerly, monks, Brahmins sought food for their morning meal in the morning and for their evening meal in the evening. Now, monks, Brahmins having eaten as much as their bellies will hold, leave taking away the left-overs. Now, monks, dogs seek food for their morning meal in the morning and for their evening meal in the evening. This, monks, is the fifth ancient practice of Brahmins that is now practised by dogs, not by Brahmins.

Reference: Soṇa Sutta, A.ii.221, Book of Fives

What Are OpenType Features?

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Typography

Not Just Small Capitals

penType fonts can include Decorative Capitals, which may be implemented as Stylistic Alternates, or Contextual Alternates. In my fonts, the coloured capitals are implemented as Stylistic Alternates. This Test Page shows them in use on a web page. Note that you can select the coloured glyphs in the heading. They are text, not graphics. Although browsers support OpenType Stylistic Alternates, WebPlus X8 does not, so on my test page they are inserted as Unicode characters.

Some fonts, like Palatino Linotype, which was distributed with Windows XP, have Small Capitals, but not everyone knows about them, or knows how to use them. The use of OpenType features in modern fonts is now common, and many more software applications support them — even freeware like LibreOffice.

The Serif applications, PagePlus and DrawPlus, have supported a large number of, though not all, features for many years. However, WebPlus X8 does not support them, so special characters need to be inserted from the Insert Symbol dialogue to make use of them. (See below for a test web page).

For a full list of registered features, see the Microsoft OpenType Tag Registry.

For Web Pages Too

Browsers like Firefox have supported OpenType features for years, and now most modern browsers support them. If you visit this High-Logic Test Page and enable/disable the checkboxes for OpenType features on the right, you can see the effect on the sample text.

Professional Typography

High quality fonts include glyphs designed for specific tasks. For example, although most software applications can generate superscripts from regular digits, these auto-generated glyphs may be too light in comparison to the body text. Serif PagePlus gets around this by adding a bold attribute to the small superscript digits. Thus they are about 70% of the size of regular digits, raised up, and bold. This works better in some fonts than in others.

Most fonts will have true superscripts for ¹²³, which are the correct weight and position, but only some have ⁴⁵⁶⁷⁸⁹⁰ too, and fewer still have superscript glyphs for a-z, which can be used for dates: 1st 2nd 3rd, 11th 12th 13th etc. The image below compares true superscripts for ordinals (left), with those auto-generated by PagePlus (right). Those on the right are too big, too bold, and too low.

Some OpenType features are language dependent. On the High-Logic Test Page, you can change the language code from EN (English) to NL (Netherlands) to change the fi ligature to fi.

Read More about OpenType Features

The Blessings Business

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Buddhism

How Do Monks Bestow Blessings?

I am currently editing the Bodhirājakumāra Sutta, a discourse by the Buddha to Prince Bodhi when the Blessed One was dwelling at Suṃsumāragiri in the Bhagga country. Prince Bodhi had just had a new palace constructed and invited the Buddha for a meal to bless the new dwelling. Since he wished to have children, he spread the floor with white cloths, believing that if holy monks stepped on them, that he would be blessed with children. When the Buddha arrived at the palace — The Red Lotus Palace — he stood still, refusing to tread on the cloths to enter the building. The Venerable Ānanda instructed the prince to have the cloths removed, and the Buddha then entered the palace, ate the meal, and discoursed to Prince Bodhi after the meal about the way to happiness.

The Commentary to the discourse explains that the Buddha, knowing through his powers of mind-reading the reason for Prince Bodhi spreading the white cloths, he used his psychic powers to look into the past lives of Prince Bodhi and his wife, and foresaw that due to their past kamma, they were destined to remain childless, so he refused to step on the cloths, thinking of the benefit of future generations. In a previous life, they had been shipwrecked together on an island of birds. They survived by eating the fledgling birds. As a result of that kamma, they were destined to remain childless as husband and wife when reborn in the time of Gotama Buddha.

Superstitious Beliefs

Prince Bodhi’s belief was groundless. Having children does not depend on monks stepping on white cloths, or any other kind of blessing allegedly bestowed by monks. It depends on medical factors, and on past kamma. If the past negative kamma is strong, no amount of medical treatment can overcome its effects.

When devout Buddhists are going for a driving test, a job interview, or an examination, they typically approach the monks, and ask them to recite protection discourses like the Maṅgala Sutta, to obtain blessings. In the Sri Lankan tradition the monks usually tie a Holy Thread (pirit nul), around the wrists of the devotees. I have never come across any evidence for this tradition in the Buddhist texts — it is perhaps a custom assimilated from Hinduism. Whatever, whether the monks tie a holy thread or not, blessings do not depend on that. It is a very lucrative custom if each devotee offers just £5, so it has survived for centuries and thrives in most Buddhist temples, but it is a superstitious belief. Please read the linked exposition of the Maṅgala Sutta, where the Buddha explains to a deity about thirty-eight types of wholesome kamma that give blessings and future happiness. Not to associate with fools, but to associate with the wise … opportune discussion of the Dhamma, and so forth.

Devotees may make the wholesome kamma of reverence while listening to the recitation, even if they do not know the meaning, or know it but do not reflect on it well during the recitation, but if they think that blessings will come merely by reciting sacred verses without putting them into practice, that is superstition, or clinging to rites and rituals.

Another example from the Vinaya texts. It was customary for monks of other sects to bless people with the words: “May you live long.” Some monks were scrupulous, thinking: “Long life does not depend on such blessings; long life depends on an individual’s own kamma,” so they did not bless the devotees offering food or paying respect. Some people complained about the monks remaining silent, and the Buddha allowed them to speak what was just a conventional farewell.

In the UK, we often say Goodbye. The meaning is, “May God be with you.” People just say it without thinking about the meaning at all. Many may not even know the real meaning. Even Buddhists say it, though they do not believe in God. We should say, instead, “Farewell,” or something similar. Even if we say, “See you,” we do not know if we will see the person again, but there’s no harm in such social niceties.

The Blessings of the Dhamma

Future benefits derive from present wholesome kamma; present benefits derive from past wholesome kamma. It is only natural that if you do good things you will get good results. The results of good kamma may not come at once, but when they do, the results will inevitably be blessings and beneficial. The blessings of the teachings of the Buddha come only to those who practise it; they do not come to those who do not practise good deeds.

When people pay homage to monks, or offer them almsfood, we may recite a short verse from the Dhammapada:

Abhivādanasīlissa, niccaṃ vuḍḍhāpacāyino.
Cattāro dhammā vaḍḍhanti, āyu vaṇṇo sukhaṃ balaṃ. (Dhp v 109)

The meaning is:

“For one who constantly honours and respects the elders,
four blessings increase — long-life, beauty, bliss, and strength.”

These blessings derive from humility, reverence, and loving-kindness. They are natural results of wholesome kamma. Whether the monk recites the verse or not, the blessings will follow from the intention behind the deeds, which is wholesome kamma. If one pays respect to elders out of fear or superstition, the results will be different. The respect should be genuine.

An Exposition of the Maṅgala Sutta • The Buddha’s Discourse on Blessings

FontCreator — A Highly Logical Choice

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Software

FontCreator 4.0

I first started editing fonts in the late 1980’s using CorelDraw 4.0, which had an export filter for TrueType fonts. This was back in the days of Windows 3.1 and ANSI character sets. Standard fonts did not include the characters with diacritics (accents) that I needed, so I had to edit my own fonts. It was a slow process, because the export filter crashed very often.

In 2002 I got a copy of FontCreator 4.0 and the task became a lot easier. Later, I got involved with coding the data used by FontCreator for positioning diacritics in composite glyphs (like ā, é, ì, õ, ü), which are needed frequently for non-English languages, especially Pali and Vietnamese.

FontCreator 11.5

The software has come a very long way in the 16 years since I started using it. Now we can create colour fonts, add and edit OpenType features with a graphical editor, import vector outlines from Adobe Illustrator or SVG images from Inkscape, as well as PDF files. It is a powerful program, with a long learning curve, but I have created many tutorials that you can read or watch.

Font Editing is Harder than One might Think

Those who are new to editing fonts soon discover that there is a lot to learn. It is not just about designing glyphs with appealing shapes, the letter spacing, line spacing, and mapping of glyphs to code-points has to be done right too. There are many built-in tools to automate the process, especially in the Professional Edition, but new users will need to read the help file and ask questions on the support forum.

My Free OpenType FontsA Review of FontCreator

Serif PagePlus X9 — Publishing on a Budget

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Software

A Legacy Product

The last version of Serif’s flagship product for Desktop Publishing (DTP) can still currently be bought for £20 or about $25 US. If you go to Serif’s website, they will be keen to tell you about their new Affinity Products. Scroll down to purchase the Serif Legacy Products like PagePlus X9. The replacement for PagePlus, Affinity Publisher, may eventually be a better choice, but currently it lacks many of the features found in PagePlus X9. Only you can decide if the trade off is worthwhile. Files created in PagePlus cannot be imported into Affinity Publisher, so if you upgrade later, you will still need to keep PagePlus to open your previous work.

Professional Features

In spite of its very low price (PagePlus was never more than £100), it is a mature programme with most of the features found in professional publishing programs like InDesign, Quark, or PageMaker.

  1. High quality PDF output
  2. Optical Justification, a.k.a. Optical Margin Alignment
  3. Fine adjustment of tracking and kerning with GPOS Kerning support
  4. Powerful OpenType Feature Support
  5. Baseline Grid Alignment
  6. Index and Table of Contents generation with hyperlinks
  7. Footnotes, Endnotes, and Cross-references
  8. Multi-lingual spell-check with Hunspell dictionary support
  9. Import documents from Word or LibreOffice complete with footnotes and tables
  10. Tables, Calendars, and Charts

Features for Amateurs

From the beginning, PagePlus was designed to appeal to home users who want scanning, drawing, photo-editing, filter effects, text on a curve, logos, and other graphics tools built-in, without the need to own and learn multiple programs. The built-in Image Cut-out Studio and PhotoLab may be no substitute for PhotoShop, but they have adequate power for the home publisher or small charity. Ticket printing, greeting cards, menus, DVD covers, calendars, banners, and posters can all be created with ease.

Customisable Interface

Regular users will find the high degree of customisation that PagePlus allows extremely helpful to enhance productivity. Customised work spaces designed for specific project types, or to suit different sized monitors, can be saved and reloaded at any time. Shortcuts can be assigned to the most frequently used commands, and the defaults can be changed. Even the icons on the toolbars can be edited and imported. Key features that enhance productivity:

  1. Restore Last Session to load all publications that you were last working on, zoomed to the page that you were last editing, to  resume wherever you left off.
  2. Tile publications for easy drag and drop between them
  3. Save assets for reuse in other publications
  4. Import documents from Word or LibreOffice complete with footnotes and tables
  5. Export any design as a graphic in any common format

Read my Full Review on Softerviews.org, for more details of the available features, and PDF tutorials to get new users started with the more complex features.

Vivaldi Browser

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Software

A Great Tool for Research

I spend most of the day online, and I use Vivaldi all day even when I am working on my books or website in Serif PagePlus or WebPlus. I use it constantly to look up words, and have the entire Buddhist Canon on my local drive in HTML format for reference to the texts, and a Pali English dictionary that I use to help with translation. By tiling as a grid, I can refer to the Pali text, its Commentary, a translation, and the Pali English Dictionary in one Tab Stack. By saving the tiled tab stack as a session, I can reload it later, or modify it and save the new session for working on a different translation project.

Pali Text, Commentary, Dictionary, and Translation


Custom Search Engines

Besides the usual search engines for DuckDuckGo, Google, and Wikipedia, I have added custom search engines for Acronymns, the Oxford Dictionary, the Pali Text Society Dictionary, and YouTube. (Yes, even on YouTube one can find some useful resources for Buddhist studies). The advantage of a search engine for the PTS Dictionary is that I can search English words to find a similar term in Pali.


Notes Panel

Vivaldi Notes can be used simply for boiler-plate text that one uses frequently. These can be inserted with access key shortcuts alone after doing Shift F10, I, followed by the first letter of a folder, then the first letter of a note. For example, Shift+F10, I, V, S will insert my system specs.


Specs: AMD A10-6800K, 8 Gb on Win 10 64-bit 1809 build 17763.253 • Snapshot 2.3.1420.4 (64-bit)

Bing Translation Panel

Occasionally, I need to translate some text from or to another language. This can be done easily in a Web Panel, where I keep the Bing Translator.

Parfois, j’ai besoin de traduire un texte de ou vers une autre langue. Cela peut être fait facilement dans un panneau Web, où je garde le traducteur Bing. 


A Full Review of Vivaldi on Softerviews.org, my website for reviews of my favourite software. Here, I keep track of changes with each new Snapshot, and illustrate some of the most useful features and settings.

Six Kinds of Speech Used by the Buddha

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Buddhism

Prologue

Prince Abhaya was a disciple of the Naked Ascetics (Nigaṇṭhā), who were vehement opponents of the Buddha. The Abhayarājakumāra Sutta relates how their leader sent Prince Abhaya to the Buddha with a formulated question to ask him, that he hoped would confound him. Prince Abhaya invited the Buddha with three other monks to his house for alms

Prince Abhaya, served and satisfied the Blessed One with superior hard and soft foods by his own hands. Then, when the Blessed One had eaten and had removed his hand from his bowl, Prince Abhaya took a lower seat and sat down at one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One, “Venerable sir, would the Tathāgata say words that are harsh and displeasing to others?”

“Prince, there is no one-sided answer to that.”

“Then right here, venerable sir, the Naked Ascetics are defeated.”

“But prince, why do you say, ‘Then right here, venerable sir, the Naked Ascetics are defeated’?”

Then Prince Abhaya repeated the entire conversation he had had the day before with Nigaṇṭhā Nāṭaputta.

Now at that time a baby boy was lying face-up on the princes lap. So the Blessed One said to the prince, “What do you think, prince: If this young boy, through your own negligence or that of the nurse, were to take a stick or a piece of gravel into its mouth, what would you do?”

“I would take it out, Venerable sir. If I couldn’t get it out right away, then holding its head in my left hand and crooking a finger of my right, I would take it out, even if it meant drawing blood. Why is that? Because I have compassion for the young boy.”

Six Kinds of Speech

  1. Speech that the Tathāgata¹ knows is untrue, incorrect, unbeneficial, harsh² and displeasing to others, he does not utter.
  2. Speech that the Tathāgata knows to be true, correct, unbeneficial, harsh and displeasing to others, he does not utter.
  3. Speech that the Tathāgata knows to be true, correct, beneficial,³ but harsh and displeasing to others, he knows the right time to say it.
  4. Speech that the Tathāgata knows to be untrue, incorrect, unbeneficial, but affectionate and pleasing to others, he does not say it.
  5. Speech that the Tathāgata knows to be true, correct, unbeneficial, but affectionate and pleasing to others, he does not utter.
  6. Speech that the Tathāgata knows to be true, correct, beneficial, and affectionate and pleasing to others, he knows the right time for saying it. Why is that? Because the Tathāgata has compassion for living beings.”

Notes

1. Tathāgata is a term that the Buddha used when referring to himself. 

2. Harsh (appiyā), not affectionate.

3. Beneficial (atthasaṃhitaṃ). The Buddha gave advice on attaining worldly benefits such as wealth, health, and long-life; as well as advice on attaining spiritual benefits.

 Prior to the occasion that is the basis of dilemma in this discourse, Devadatta went to the Buddha and suggested that the leadership of the Order should be handed over to him in view of the Buddha’s approaching old age. The Buddha scorned the suggestion, saying, “Not even to Sāriputta or Mahā-Moggallāna would I hand over the Order, how would I then to you, vile one, to be expectorated like spittle?” Devadatta showed great resentment and vowed vengeance. These were very harsh words indeed, after which Devadatta conspired to try to kill the Buddha and urged Ajātasattu to kill his own father, King Bimbisāra.

When Devadatta tried to kill the Buddha himself by throwing a boulder down from Vulture’s Peak, which splintered, drawing blood from the Blessed One’s foot, this was the first heinous crime that condemned Devadatta to hell. Later, he caused a schism in the Saṅgha, which is another heinous crime. Killing one’s own mother, one’s own father, an Arahant, spilling the blood of a Tathāgata, and causing a schism in the Saṅgha are all weighty volitional actions (garu kamma), with a definite and irreversible result of rebirth in hell.

It is hard to see how these harsh words were beneficial to Devadatta as they did not deter him from further evil acts, and may have been what spurred him to take such drastic actions. However, they were beneficial to many others. After this refusal to hand over the leadership of the Saṅgha to Devadatta, the Buddha had a public declaration made that any actions done by Devadatta thereafter were his own only, and not those of the community.

My conclusion: True speech that is harsh, displeasing, and unbeneficial to some, but of benefit to others, is right-speech if spoken without malice.

The Right to Cause Offence

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Current Affairs

There has been much debate in the media recently about free speech and the offence it may cause to others. In an article by Boris Johnson MP in the column that he writes for the Daily Telegraph he said that he felt “fully entitled” to expect women to remove face coverings when talking to him at his MP surgery, and expressed his opinion that the burka is oppressive and that it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes.

Some were outraged at his comments, while others supported his right to free speech, even if it does cause offence. There are three separate issues here that need to be considered:–

  1. Security concerns about covering the face.
  2. The right to wear whatever ones wishes.
  3. The need to conform to the society in which one lives.

There are legitimate concerns about security. In airports, banks, or wherever there are security checks, it should be obligatory to remove face coverings. The law must be enforced impartially. If a bank or shop requires the removal of crash helmets and masks, no exception can be made on religious grounds as this would make it too easy for robbers or terrorists to circumvent security arrangements.

The right to wear whatever one wishes has limits that are determined by laws and bylaws, dress codes, and local customs. There are naturist beaches where anyone can go entirely naked, but elsewhere one would be charged with public indecency. The Naked Rambler has spent many years in prison because he refuses to comply with the law. There have been many legal cases fought over the right to wear religious symbols or the right not to conform to dress codes at work. In most cases, the right of a company to make a dress code a contractual obligation have been upheld by the courts.

The UK government rejected a claim to prevent firms requiring women to wear high heels, claiming that the existing law on sex discrimination was adequate. However, the law is not enforced universally and many dress codes for women still reinforce sexist stereotypes that are outdated. A dress code that requires a woman to look sexy is unreasonable in most jobs. Unfortunately, western businesses have exploited the sexuality of women for so long that changing cultural attitudes is now very difficult. Air hostesses, waitresses, bar staff, receptionists, etc., are expected to look attractive to men, and there is no doubt that the physical appearance of female employees does affect the profitability of such businesses. Dress codes to protect workers’ health, e.g. steel-capped boots are fine, but no dress code should damage a worker’s health.

The third point about the need to conform to local custom is not something that can or should be enforced by the law. It is a matter of polite and civilised behaviour to assimilate into the community in which one lives or wherever one visits. When tourists visit foreign countries and if immigrants wish to integrate into their chosen country they will need to adjust their behaviour. To be insensitive to cultural norms is a sign of an uncivilised person. Those who don’t communicate with their neighbours are rightly regarded with suspicion. Anyone seeking permanent residence in a new country one should learn its language, history, and culture. It is not a violation of one’s human rights if one is not allowed to smoke in certain places, to play music in a library, or to wear shoes in a temple, mosque, or gurdwara. Private businesses, professional bodies, public swimming baths, Internet forums, and many other organisations make their own rules that members are expected to follow and may exclude them if they refused to abide by their regulations.

Read more …

The Simile of the Good Car

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Buddhism / Insight Meditation

If one wishes to reach a distant destination such as the Cairngorms National Park, from London, one will need several things: A car with five good wheels, some fuel, and some money to buy more fuel on the way. One will also need to know how to drive, and study the route.

Similarly, to reach a distant destination such as nibbāna from one’s current location in saṃsāra, wherever that might be, one will need several things: A car with five good wheels, some fuel, and some money to buy more fuel n the way. One will also need to know how to drive, and study the route.

Here is the meaning of the simile:-

A car with Five Good Wheels

One needs to have a human body during the era of the Buddha’s Dispensation and be reasonably healthy. If someone is chronically sick or mentally ill, it may not be possible for them to meditate strenuously enough.

Just as a car needs four good wheels, and a fifth — the steering wheel — a meditator needs to observe the four precepts: abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and unwholesome speech, and the fifth — abstaining from intoxicants that cause heedlessness. An unmindful and heedless person is incapable of making any worthwhile progress in meditation practice. Ideally, a meditator should observe the eight precepts by abstaining from afternoon meals, indulging in entertainments, and using cosmetics, jewellery, and perfumes.

Some Fuel for the Journey

At least one will need sufficient fuel to reach the next service station, where one can buy some more fuel. A meditator needs both faith and a generous spirit. A mean-spirited, excessively critical, or aggressive person cannot even begin the journey. Kind and generous people, whether they are Buddhists or not, if they are open-minded, intelligent, and respectful, can soon make progress and increase their faith in the teachings. If they begin the journey with faith in the teachings and the meditation instructor, they will gain in confidence as they make progress in the early stages of insight. Acquiring faith through practice is like having money to buy more fuel whenever one needs to.

Knowing How to Drive

Before setting out on a long journey, one should learn how to drive safely. One should attend regular meditation classes to learn the technique from an experienced meditation teacher. Learning how to meditate, like learning how to drive, is not something that one can learn properly only by reading books. One should practise the basic exercises given by the meditation teacher, and develop both skill and self-confidence by practising meditation for many hours.

Some drivers can pass their driving test after only five or ten lessons; others may have to retake the test repeatedly, and need to have many lessons. However clever one thinks one is, it is foolish to get into a car and start driving without taking any driving lessons. Even if one is not full of self-confidence, if one practises repeatedly, one will become competent sooner or later.

Studying the Route

Just as there are many different routes from London to reach the Cairngorms, there are many different meditation routes to reach nibbāna. Just as all routes from London to the Cairngorms must go North, the route to nibbāna from saṃsāra must go away from sensual indulgence and towards renunciation of pleasure. It must go away from laziness and towards stirring up energy.

One can study the route thoroughly beforehand, or one can make inquiries on the way. Either method will work provided that one studies carefully and makes a thorough investigation by putting appropriate and intelligent questions to the meditation instructor.

Reaching the Destination

A long journey may not be completed in a single day. To reach the Cairngorms one may drive fast as far as Edinburgh or Perth, then one will have to stay overnight, and continue on the next day. At some point, one may have to leave the car and walk or climb to the final destination on foot. However long the journey may be, if one continues in the right direction, one will get closer to the goal.

Most meditators will not reach nibbāna on their first meditation retreat, nor even after many retreats. It depends on many factors. However far they are from the destination, what is certain is that if they continue to meditate diligently they will be getting closer day by day. Conversely, if they do not begin the journey, or give up whenever it gets difficult, they will never gain any worthwhile insights, let alone reach the destination of nibbāna.

False Teachings

There are some false meditation teachers who say that the goal is easy to reach if you follow their instructions (and, no doubt, pay them a good fee). Other false teachers will say that there is no need to meditate, or that the goal is unreachable nowadays, so just make merit by giving donations and doing other good deeds.

Do not listen to false teachers. The way to nibbāna is hard for some, not so hard for others, and easy for no one, but it is impossible for those who hold wrong views. One can buy a fake degree in psychology on the Internet, or one can study hard for six years or longer to gain a genuine degree. One would expect to make at least as much effort to understand one’s own psyche, which is a prerequisite before attaining nibbāna. To put an end to craving, one has to understand what craving is and how to relinquish it.

The Kāma Sutta

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Buddhism

A Discourse on Sensual Pleasures

Introduction

The Buddhist Kāma Sutta is poles apart from the infamous Kāma Sutra, an ancient Hindu text on sexuality. Buddhists are not generally puritanical about sexuality, but the Buddhist texts advise treating it with great caution, as one treats a fire in one’s own house. The third precept to abstain from sexual misconduct (kāmesu micchācārā verāmaṇi sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi). 

In particular, kāma refers to sexual relations, but the word covers sensual pleasures of all types. The Commentary makes it clear that not only sexual pleasures are referred to here. Though such coarse pleasures are greatly desired by ordinary mortals, the most refined sensual and aesthetic pleasures suffer from the same defects.

Translation

“One who desires sensual pleasures, having succeeded in his aims,
Will surely be delighted, having obtained what a mortal desires.

“However, one who desires those sensual pleasures,
If those pleasures come to ruin,¹ is oppressed like someone pierced by an arrow.

“One who avoids sensual pleasures, like one avoids treading on a snake’s head,
Such a one overcomes attachment to this world.

“Fields, clothing, or gold, cattle and horses, slaves and workers,
Women, relatives, various sensual pleasures, a man who covets these;

“Being feeble will be overpowered, oppressed by troubles,
Suffering will follow him, like water penetrates a damaged ship.

“Therefore a person should always be mindful, avoiding sensual pleasures,
Abandoning them one will cross the flood,² as a bailed-out boat reaches the far shore.”

Notes:

1. In the Commentarial introduction, a brahmin farmer was anticipating a good harvest. The Buddha, knowing that it would be destroyed, asked the brahmin how his crop was doing. Venerable Sāriputta and Moggallāna also spoke politely to the brahmin. The brahmin therefore promised to offer alms after the sale of his crop. A great storm came just before the brahmin could harvest his crop, and he was greatly disappointed. The Buddha therefore taught him this discourse on the disadvantages of sensual pleasures.

2. A flood (ogha) is often used as a simile for defilements. The brahmin farmer’s crop was ruined by a great flood, and the happiness of human beings is destroyed by the flood of sensuality (kāmogha). Having abandoned sensual desires, and bailed-out one’s “boat,” a mindful person can cross the river that is in full flood and reach the far shore (a simile for nibbāna).