The Blessings Business

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 — 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

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.

FontCreator 12

FontCreator 12.0 is a major upgrade with powerful new features, and improvements to existing features.

An anchored-based method for creating composites improves the positioning of diacritics, especially for italic typefaces. User-friendly glyph name generation and editing is more powerful. Inserting glyphs anywhere in the font, adding code-points based on glyph names, and glyph sorting are invaluable for large fonts.

CompositeData.xml has been extensively revised, using glyph names instead of glyph mappings to remove dependence on the Private Use Area. Glyphs for OpenType features such as Small Capitals, Alternative Fractions, or Stylistic Alternates are no longer mapped. Transform scripts also use these glyph names.

Many new definitions have been added to aid in the design of Mathematical Operators, and a few in other character sets. Definitions for diacritical marks have also been enhanced.

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

A Legacy Product

The last version of Serif’s flagship product for Desktop Publishing (DTP) can no longer be bought from Serif. If you go to Serif’s website, they will be keen to tell you about their new Affinity Products. 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.

Decorative graphic borders have been available since early versions, but recent versions offer an even higher degree and ease of customisation. These are great for posters and certificates.

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, for more details of the available features, and PDF tutorials to get new users started with the more complex features.

Six Kinds of Speech Used by the Buddha


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.”


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 the 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

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 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

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

A Discourse on Sensual Pleasures


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.


“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.”


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).

Apostasy in Buddhism

Apostasy is defined as “The state of having rejected your affiliation, religious or political beliefs, or principles (often in favour of opposing beliefs or causes)” (WordWeb).

Buddhism encourages a sceptical attitude, and does not demand blind faith. One becomes a Buddhist by the simple act of taking refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha, which is an expression of one’s confidence in the teachings. One becomes a virtuous Buddhist by undertaking and observing the five precepts (abstaining from killing living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, wrong speech, and taking intoxicants that cause heedlessness).

There are many followers of Buddhism who do not have full confidence in orthodox doctrines such as the law of kamma and rebirth, psychic powers, mind-reading, the existence of other realms of existence, etc. These core beliefs are elements of mundane right-view. However, being sceptical about these beliefs does not make anyone an apostate.

An apostate is someone like the monk Sunakkhatta who was angry with the Buddha, and left the Saṅgha.

By his own misdirected mind, Sunakkhatta set himself on a course that would inevitably lead to rebirth in hell. The Buddha did not inflict any punishment on him, Sunakkhatta’s path was one that he chose for himself. This is what the Maha-sihanada Sutta says regarding Sunakkhatta:

21. “Sariputta, when I know and see thus, should anyone say of me: ‘The recluse Gotama does not have any superhuman states, any distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones. The recluse Gotama teaches a Dhamma (merely) hammered out by reasoning, following his own line of inquiry as it occurs to him’ — unless he abandons that assertion and that state of mind and relinquishes that view, then as (surely as if he had been) carried off and put there he will wind up in hell.

Just as a bhikkhu possessed of virtue, concentration and wisdom would here and now enjoy final knowledge, so it will happen in this case, I say, that unless he abandons that assertion and that state of mind and relinquishes that view, then as (surely as if he had been) carried off and put there he will wind up in hell.

No Buddhist worthy of the name would want to kill or punish an apostate. They might want to reason with them to restore their faith, or they might ostracise them if they refused to listen to wise counsel.

See the Kesi Sutta. to understand the Buddhist attitude to apostates and others who adhere to wrong-views and engage in misdeeds.

A Question of Balance

Understanding the Middle Path

On the full-moon night of Vesākha, the Bodhisatta become the Buddha after meditating the entire night at the culmination of a six year struggle to find the right path. Thereafter, he spent forty-five years propagating his “Middle Path” guiding others along the unique way that he had discovered.

In fact, he had been searching much longer than six years to find this middle path. Since the time of his vow at the feet of the Buddha Dīpaṅkara, ninety-one aeons ago, as the ascetic Sumedha, he had dedicated 100% of his efforts throughout many lives to this quest for enlightenment. Even before meeting the Buddha Dīpaṅkara, the Bodhisatta had practised meditation earnestly throughout many lives to accumulate perfections, and at the time of meeting the Buddha Dīpaṅkara he was an accomplished ascetic with mystic powers.

After his enlightenment he taught this “Middle Path” for more than forty-five years until his death at the age of over eighty. He called it the “Middle Path” because it avoided the two extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification, not because it requires only a moderate amount of effort to follow it. The facts clearly show that to follow the “Middle Path” requires a great deal of effort and dedication, though it does, of course, also require that effort to be well-balanced, equanimous, and rightly directed. It is not a path for fanatics or zealots, but one for pious devotees, serious students, and ardent meditators.

When we talk of a well-balanced approach to practice, one should not conjure up visions of balancing in a hammock on a sunny afternoon, nor of sitting on a fence not knowing which way to jump, but the balance of a long-distance athlete who runs as fast as possible with the least possible waste of energy, or the balance of a worker who climbs a ladder with a heavy load of bricks on his shoulder.

The Three Characteristics

First we should learn something about why we need to meditate, and what we are aiming to achieve by meditation. If our aim is wrong, our practice will be wrong, or even if it is right, we may give up easily if we don’t get the results that we expect.

The aim of the Buddha’s Middle Path of mindfulness meditation or insight meditation is to understand things as they really are, and thus remove craving, which is the cause of suffering. In short, we meditate in order to realise the three characteristics of imperma­nence (anicca), unsatis­factori­ness (dukkha), and not-self (anatta). The purpose is not mental tranquillity, to enjoy a stress-free life, or to make merit.

One should have this basic understanding that the First Noble Truth — the truth of suffering — needs to be understood; the Second Noble Truth — the truth of the cause (craving) needs to be abandoned; the Third Noble Truth — the truth of cessation (nibbāna) — needs to be realised; and the Fourth Noble Truth — the truth of the Path — needs to be developed. If one has this basic understanding before one begins, one will not be surprised, disappointed, or alarmed if one discovers one or other of these three characteristics. On the contrary, one will be encouraged at the thought that one is making gradual progress on the Path to the end of suffering.


Not all Bodhisattas have to endure six hard years of self-mortifying practice. It depends on their past kamma. The reason that Siddhattha Gotama had to struggle in this way is told in the Ghaṭikāra Sutta of the Majjhimanikāya. In that discourse, the Buddha relates to the Venerable Ānanda how, in a previous life, he himself was reborn as a Brahmin youth named Jotipāla, whose companion since childhood was a potter (that is the meaning of Ghaṭikāra — a maker of pots). This potter was a devout follower of the Buddha Kassapa, and a Non-returner, who supported his blind and aged parents by his simple craft. One day, Ghaṭikāra repeatedly urged his friend, Jotipāla, to go and visit the Buddha Kassapa, who was staying near by. Jotipāla, however, being proud due to his high caste family, was reluctant to visit a teacher of another religion. He remarked, “What is the use of going to see this bald-headed recluse?” Eventually, however, he gave in to the repeated urging of his friend, went to see the Buddha, gained faith in the Dhamma, and became a bhikkhu in his dispensation. It was due to those disrespectful words regarding the most noble of beings, that Siddhattha Gotama had to struggle for six years before finding the Middle Path.

I hope you can see, therefore, the important role that respect pays in the practice of the Dhamma. If we listen respectfully to the teacher’s instructions, we will learn much more quickly, and avoid unskilful paths that only lead to more suffering. Even if the teacher explains something wrongly, if one listens respectfully, one will not be misled, but will realise that the teacher hasn’t explained it very clearly, or that one may have misunderstood what he meant. One will seek a second opinion or refer to the relevant books to clarify the teacher’s instruction, or proceed carefully, trusting one’s own experience.


Nothing worthwhile can be achieve in a short time unless one has done a lot of preparation. Consider how long the Bodhisatta had to strive to achieve his goal. To gain enlightenment took him only about twelve hours of continuous meditation once he had gained the right method, but to get to that advanced stage of preparedness he had to struggle hard for much longer.

Someone on a Buddhist forum, referring to the Venerable Ānanda’s striving for Arahantship, wrote that after practising walking meditation for the whole night without achieving his goal, he gave up and went to rest.  I don’t see it the same way. Venerable Ānanda didn’t give up at all. After practising walking meditation for the whole night he reflected, “The Buddha said that my perfections are mature enough to gain Arahantship, yet though I have tried my hardest for the whole night, I haven’t yet reached the goal. I must have been exerting too hard, making the mind distracted and restless. I need to regain mental balance by adopting a posture more conducive to tranquillity.” So he went and sat on the edge of his bed, and lay down to rest the body for a while. He did not give up mindfulness for one moment, but continued to note mindfully all actions and movements of the body as he adjusted his posture. After sitting on his bed, he gained Once-returning, Non-returning and, finally, Arahantship before his head touched the pillow. This very rapid attainment by the Venerable Ānanda was the result of continuity of practice throughout the whole night without a break. It was not the result of “giving up.”

Be careful when you listen to this story. Enlightenment is not to be gained by lying down on the bed — unless you have excellent knowledge and wisdom like Venerable Ānanda, and have been striving hard all night practising intensive walking meditation.

When we practise meditation seriously, we should be prepared for an endurance race, not a sprint. Ten days is nothing if we compare it to six years. To gain enlightenment and escape from rebirth could not be such a simple task. If we speak of striving for at least eighteen hours a day, continuously for many days, people say that we are fanatics, that we are not teaching the Middle Path. What do you think? Are we fanatics, or are those people just lazy and far away from understanding the right method?

Cultivating Suitability

The meditator’s attitude should be very different to the average person. The average person quickly becomes bored with meditation if asked to practice for the entire day and late into the night. It is not easy even for experienced meditators to sustain effort for a long time. One needs to cultivate the right conditions to stir up effort and deepen concentration. A meditator should avoid worldly thoughts and activities. This is doubly difficult to achieve at home. It is also hard to achieve in many monasteries that I have stayed at. The Buddha’s advice is to go to a forest, to the root of a tree, or to an empty place.

One should join a meditation course, where like-minded people are also striving to develop concentration and insight. If one has the moral support of other meditators, it will help one’s own practice. Staying alone is beneficial, but only if one is strongly inclined to meditation. Otherwise, it is better to derive some support from others. It was with this in mind that I started the “Association for Insight Meditation.” By associating with others who also want to gain insight, one will practise harder than if one associates with those who want to enjoy sensual pleasures.

A meditator should avoid all talking. Talking for five minutes can spoil one’s practice for the entire day. Even talk about meditation should be limited to what is necessary for instruction. One should eat plain food that suits one’s own metabolism. Two light meals — breakfast and lunch are enough for a meditator. In the afternoon one can drink fruit juice or take honey if one becomes famished.

The climate may be a problem for westerners who visit Burma. In the hot season, go to a meditation centre at higher altitude. Taunggyi in Shan State is much more comfortable than Rangoon.

One should seek out a teacher who can give inspiring discourses, and/or inspire by example. “Talking is easy, doing is difficult,” as the saying goes.

Remembering Previous Successes

There are many factors that contribute to good results. Every meditator is unique, and only a teacher with the higher knowledge of a Buddha can know exactly what instructions to give at any moment. Other teachers give advice that is good, but may not be what the meditator needs to hear at that moment.

My mother took me for weekly swimming lessons for many weeks, but I did not like the instructor and made little progress. Then one day, while playing in the sea, a wave picked me up and I realised that I could keep my head above water and my feet off of the ground. It was not very long before I could swim quite well.

Learning to meditate is an acquired skill like learning to swim or riding a bicycle. Even the best teacher can only point out the way, and offer tips and encouragement, the student must practise the meditation exercises for himself or herself, and discover the right method that keeps the mental faculties in perfect balance.

When you achieve some results, such as being able to sit or walk for long periods without interruption, or if the mind becomes unusually calm and still, make a mental note of the conditions at that time. Recollect that experience and the conditions that led to it when trying to regain concentration at a later date. Did you eat your meal with special mindfulness that day, or walk slower than usual?

Developing the Factors of Enlightenment

These seven factors of enlightenment are weak in the average person who first takes up meditation: mindfulness (sati), investigation (dhammavicaya), effort (viriya), joy (pīti), tranquillity (passaddhi)concentration (samādhi), and equanimity (upekkhā). They need to be developed through sustained and continuous practice. Mindfulness is indispensable. It is the factor that keeps the others in balance. Investigation, effort, and joy all excite the mind and stir it up to strive harder. Tranquillity, concentration, and equanimity cool the excited mind to make it focus deeper. When the energy is low we must use investigation, effort, and joy to brighten the mind and stir it up. When the mind becomes too fired-up, we must use tranquillity, concentration, and equanimity to cool it down before it overheats. Mindfulness keeps checking the current state of the mind to know which factor is in excess and which is deficient.

Enduring Patience is the Greatest Austerity

Renunciation of pleasure is hard for human beings, but tolerance of pain and discomfort is much harder. No one likes pain and discomfort, fatigue, hunger and thirst, excessive heat or cold. A meditator must endure these hardships with patience. If the mind shrinks from facing up to them, as it always does when it is weak, the meditator must keep stirring up effort, courage, and determination. If severe pain comes, try to sit with it for a little longer. You should regard it as your best friend because it is the means by which you can gain freedom from suffering. Remember, the truth of suffering must be understood. So when suffering comes you have a precious chance to gain insight. If you shy away from it, the pain will be unbearable, and crush your will to go on. If you take it as a challenge to test the maturity of your practice, it will lead to rapid progress.

Courageous Determination

Each time you participate in a retreat, whether for a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks, you are developing your perfections. The Bodhisatta practised meditation throughout many lives to attain the perfections that he needed to achieve his goal. Perhaps you already have sufficient perfections to achieve your goal, as the Venerable Ānanda had, but you must not give up. You may need to go to work and earn money to support your family, but each time you get a chance to meditate seriously, you must take it and practise again and again. Keep doing the practice until you break through and gain some insight knowledge. Without applying heat, nothing ever gets cooked.

When suffering arises, do not shrink from it, but increase your efforts and spend more time for formal meditation practice. If pain arises, don’t change your position at once, but change your attitude. The pain is not your enemy, but a reminder of the universal truth of suffering. If insight can be gained, suffering can be transcended. As it says in the introduction to the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta: “This, monks, is the only way for the purification of living-beings, for the transcendence of grief and lamentation, for the extinguishing of pain and sorrow, for attaining the right method, for the realisation of nibbāna, namely: the four foundations of mindfulness.” Do not seek for any other method; avoidance just delays success further into the future.

The Law of Kamma Explained

The following passage occurs in several places:

All beings are the owners of their actions (kamma), heirs of their actions, born from their actions, related to their actions, and have actions as their refuge. Whatever action they do, whether good or evil, they will inherit its results.

Owners of their actions

In this world, one is said to be the owner of property that one has paid for, but at death we have to leave it all behind. So we do not really own it, we have just borrowed it for a while. In the case of volitional actions of body, speech, and mind however, we do take them with us when we die, so they are truly our own property. No one else owns or is responsible for our kamma. The buck stops here.

Heirs to their actions

When parents die, their children usually inherit their house and other property. The children do not usually inherit the house of their neighbours. If the parents had an expensive house, the children do no inherit a cheap house. When someone is reborn, they inherit the results of kammas done in previous lives. The circumstances in which we are reborn depends on on our kamma. Wealth is the result of generosity, intelligence is the result of questioning, beauty and good health are the results of kindness and compassion, a short life is the result of killing, etc. Nothing that happens to us in unfair in the ultimate sense, since it is the result of our own actions.

Born from their actions

Kamma is the seed that determines the quality of our existence. Mango seeds give mango trees, chilli seeds give chilli seeds. That is only natural.

Related to their actions

When a family gets into difficulties for one reason or another, good relatives will come to help out. On the other hand, bad relatives will cause many problems. Some kammas are supportive, others are counteractive. Though reborn in a happy existence due to good kamma, one may suffer many hardships due to counteractive kamma. Conversely, though reborn into difficult circumstances, supportive kamma may come along to offer many good opportunities to succeed in life.

Have kamma as their refuge

“God helps those who help themselves” as the saying goes. If believing in God was of any use, it would not be necessary to study or work. Merely by praying to God one would become wealthy. However, it is not so. One has to do wholesome kammas to become wealthy. If some seem to become wealthy by doing unwholesome kammas, it is because they did wholesome kammas in previous lives, the present kammas will give bad results in the future. So the law of kamma means that everyone has the opportunity to mould his or her own destiny to ensure happiness in the future.

Ten Kinds of Kamma

Although we talk of bodily kamma, and verbal kamma, it is always the mind that is the motivator, and it is in the mind that kamma is made. Body or speech is just the outward manifestation.

Ten Kinds of Unwholesome Kamma

Three Kinds of Physical Kamma

1. Killing
2. Stealing
3. Sexual misconduct

Four  Kinds of Verbal Kamma

1. Lying
2. Abusing
3. Slandering
4. Idle chatter

Three Kinds Mental Kamma

1. Covetousness
2. Ill-will
3. Wrong-view

Ten Kinds of Wholesome Kamma

There are also ten wholesome kamma that lead to happiness in this life and rebirth in fortunate existences (human, celestial, and brahma realms) in the next. Though you are no doubt familiar with all of the ten unwholesome deeds, you may not be so familiar with the ten wholesome deeds (~_~) so I may need to explain these in a bit more detail. What makes these deeds wholesome is not so much the outward manifestation, but the mental volition involved.

1. Charity (Dāna) means giving. It is accompanied by the wholesome volition of renunciation of attachment. It may be done for many reasons: compassion, reverence, loving-kindness, desiring praise or future welfare, or seeing danger in attachment. It is of three kinds as inferior, medium, and superior. Done with desire for fame is inferior, with desire for future welfare is medium, seeing the danger in attachment is superior.

2. Morality (Sīla) means abstaining from immoral deeds such as killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and taking intoxicants that cause heedlessness. More refined morality means abstaining from sensual indulgence of all kinds such as listening to music, watching films, etc.

3. Meditation (Bhāvanā) means developing the mind through study or contemplation to gain concentration, knowledge, and wisdom. It entails withdrawing the mind from sensual pleasures, and removing mental restlessness and instability.

4. Reverence (Apacāyana) means respect or reverence for someone endowed with virtues such as morality, learning, compassion, or wisdom. It may also be shown towards objects, but it is important to focus the mind on the virtues of good people, for example: “This pagoda marks the spot where the Buddha attained Enlightenment” or “This meditation centre is a place where people are striving to gain insight, so I should be quiet.”

5. Service (Veyyāvaca) means helping others in various ways by sharing one’s knowledge and expertise, providing transportation, giving physical aid, medical care, etc.

6. Transference of merit (Pattidāna) means to invite others to participate in or take delight in one’s own good deeds. In Christian terms it means “Not to hide one’s light under a bushel.” It is the wholesome intention to encourage others to do wholesome deeds by speaking of the benefits one enjoys by doing them.

7. Rejoicing in others’ merit (Pattānumodanā) is finding delight in the virtue and good deeds of others.

8. Listening to Dhamma (Dhammassavana) is the mental action of paying attention to a talk, or reading a book, with the intention to understand the truth.

9. Teaching Dhamma (Dhammadesanā) is teaching and explaining the way things are based on one’s own learning of the Buddhist scriptures or experiences in life and in meditation.

10. Straightening one’s wrong views (Diṭṭhujukamma) is questioning and investigating to eradicate doubts and abandon wrong views.

Kamma is not Fatalism

As I pointed out before, and as this article makes abundantly clear, kamma is the refuge for living beings. Our past kamma is already done, so the only important thing is how we react to the results in the present.

However, there is one aspect of kamma that is fatalistic. Although kamma is the refuge for the wise man, it is a trap for the fool. Allow me to relate a short story from Burmese folk-lore to illustrate the point.

The son of a pious Buddhist was a drunkard and a fool. He had no faith in Dhamma, and never listened to his father. Whatever little profit he made during the day, he spent at night, and so remained poor. After his death the father was reborn as a deity. Seeing his former son in dire straits he made one last attempt to help him. He appeared to his son and told him, “Tomorrow morning, set up your stall in front of the king’s palace. When he comes to buy a vase from you, ask whatever price you wish and he will pay it.” Then the deity appeared before the king in a frightening form, and warned him, “Your kingdom is in great danger from a demon who resides in a vase. Tomorrow morning a vendor will be in front of your palace, and he will have the vase. If you buy the vase and destroy it, the demon won’t be able to harm you.”

The king was terrified, so the next morning he went to the vendor’s stall, found the vase, and asked the vendor how much he wanted for it. The vendor replied, “50 cents” so the king bought it and took it away. The deity was furious, and took hold of his former son by the hair to smack him one, but as he lifted up his head, he saw the words “50 cents” on his forehead. So he let him go, thinking, “What is the use of being angry with this fool?”

Hence the origin of the Burmese expression, “One has one’s kamma written on one’s forehead.”

Although kamma gives us the potential to escape from all suffering, most people do not realise this. We say that they lack perfections (pāramī). If anyone holds wrong views, and clings tenaciously to those wrong views, that is heavy kamma that will prevent him or her from realising the Dhamma. They not only hold wrong views themselves, but they try their utmost to impose those wrong views on others. For the average intelligent person, if they hear or read about right view, they can understand it well enough if they think over it carefully. However, the bigot is blinded by his heavy obstructive kamma and can never understand the Dhamma, even if he is fortunate to meet the Buddha himself.

Right Understanding Arises from Practice

Buddhism is all about cause and effect
If you want to get results you have to make the right causes.

The first step is gaining confidence in the Buddha’s teaching. The Pali word is Saddha, which means confidence based on knowledge, rather than faith. However, there is an element of faith or trust required, since mere logic and reason is not sufficient. One’s knowledge has to be direct and empirical, not just intellectual.

Suffering is the cause, and confidence is the effect

Most people turn to religion only when they experience suffering. The loss of a loved one, divorce, losing one’s job, sickness, or a road accident. When the experience of suffering is personal, and not just theoretical, one begins to contemplate the meaning of life. The First Noble Truth is that life is suffering. From our own experience we gain confidence that this is true, and stop trying to deny it.

Confidence is the cause, and effort is the effect

If the Buddha had taught only the First Noble Truth, his teaching would be a pessimistic doctrine. However, he also pointed out the cause of suffering, and how to remove it. If we clearly see the cause of suffering, we will definitely want to remove it. So effort arises. One acquires a sense of urgency and disenchantment with so-called happiness.

Effort is the cause, and mindfulness is the effect

If we try to understand we will learn that the only way to remove craving, which is the cause of suffering, is to be mindful. Mindfulness is an extremely effective method for purifying the mind. In fact, it is the only method that always works. Telling people that immorality leads to hell, doesn’t stop them doing immoral deeds. When desire or anger is strong enough, they will do immoral deeds. Mindfulness prevents desire and anger from becoming strong in the first place. The trouble is, even if we know this, we still sometimes get careless and forget to be mindful.

Mindfulness is the cause, and concentration is the effect

When mindfulness is continuous and constant, the mind becomes deeply concentrated on realities in the present moment. It becomes highly purified and stops running here and there after sensual desires.

Concentration is the cause, and wisdom is the effect

The calm and concentrated mind is like a bright light that dispels the darkness of ignorance. With the benefit of right mindfulness and right concentration we can see things as they really are, not just as they seem to be. Our perception changes radically. What we previously perceived as happiness, we now see as nothing but suffering. What we previously perceived as permanent, we now perceive as unstable and unreliable. What we previously perceived as a person or being, I, me, or mine, a self or a soul; we now perceive as empty and void of any such self or person.

Wisdom is the cause, and liberation is the effect

When we no longer cling to ideas of I, me, and mine we no longer suffer due to change and decay. If something changes, we understand, “That is the nature of all things.”