Thursday, 17 May 2018

The Skilful Means of the Bodhisattva


Talk give at Sangha Night in Cambridge  September 2017

Over the next couple of months we will be looking at the four Sangrahavastus – the four means of unification of the Sangha. Tonight I’m going to give a very brief introduction to the Sangrahavastus and then talk about another aspect of the skilful means of the Bodhisattva.

But to begin at the beginning. What do we mean by a Bodhisattva? In this context a Bodhisattva is anyone on the Buddhist Path who is aware of and endeavouring to practise the altruistic dimension of the path. A Bodhisattva aims to attain higher states of consciousness not just for his or her own sake and not just for the sake of a hedonistic buzz but also and primarily for the sake of all beings. This outward looking and other-regarding attitude is the hallmark of the Bodhisattva and of the Bodhisattva path.

The Bodhisattva path is sometimes laid out in terms of the four preliminaries or four reminders followed by the Annutara Puja, followed by the six Perfections. The Four Reminders or preliminary practices are – reflections on the preciousness of human life, the inevitability of death, the law of karma and the faults of samsara. This is followed by the practice of Annutara Puja. This is what we think of as the Sevenfold Puja – however as part of the Bodhisattva practice this is not only a ritual but also a description of the stages of the path, leading up to the realisation that is represented by the seventh verse, Transference or merits and self Surrender. This is what is usually talked about as the arising of the Bodhicitta, the awakened heart. So, you have a path from the four preliminaries, through the stages represented by the sevenfold puja to the arising of the Bodhicitta. The arising of the Bodhicitta represents a realisation that spiritual practice is not just about personal development, it is not about gaining personal insights and it’s not about a personal Enlightenment. It is a realisation that the whole point of the Buddhist path is to transcend all sense of self identity and expand awareness outwards to include all beings as being as precious to you as you are to yourself. This idea is well described in the Metta Bhavana practice.

When this realisation dawns and becomes more established then the traditional path of Bodhisattva practise is to follow the six Perfections (Paramitas). These are Generosity, Ethics, Forbearance, Energy in pursuit of the good, Meditation and Wisdom. This path of the six perfections is sometimes expanded into a path of Ten Perfections and it is the seventh perfection that we are concerned with. The seventh perfection is the perfection of Skilful Means. Just for the sake of completion the eight is the perfection of the vow or Aspiration, the ninth is the perfection of spiritual power and the tenth is the perfection of knowledge.
So the seventh Perfection is the perfection of Skilful Means (upaya kusala paramita)

Upaya is translated as ‘means’ or ‘expedient’ or ‘approach’. It is simply a way of achieving something. Kusala, of course means ‘skilful’ , in the sense of ethically skilful – based in mental states of love, generosity and wisdom. But in this context it also means skilful in the sense of the most effective and appropriate means. So, when taken together these words indicate a means of communicating the Dharma that is both expedient, in the sense of appropriate and skilful in the sense of being both ethical and effective.
Sometimes skilful means is taken to mean some unconventional or unusual way of communicating the Dharma and it could be that, but the main thing about Upaya Kusala is that it is appropriate, effective and ethically skilful.

Upaya Kusala can be looked at in terms of the four Sangrahavastus – the four means of unifying the Sangha together with the four Pratisamvids – the four Analytical knowledges as they are sometimes called. I will go into this last four in detail.

The first four is what the other speakers are going to explore over the coming weeks. They are Dana or generosity, Kindly speech, Beneficial activity and Exemplification. These four are Skilful Means : means of communicating the Dharma that are appropriate and skilful in the sense of being both ethical and effective.

So that is all I will say about the Means of unifying the Spiritual community – the Sangrahavastus. What I want to look into this evening is the four Pratisamvids,  the four analytical knowledges. This phrase ‘analytical knowledge’ doesn’t tell us much.
What these four are really about is training in the best way to communicate the Dharma.
Buddhism began when the Buddha managed to successfully communicate the Dharma to one person. That first person to get it, to really understand what the Buddha was communicating was Kondanna. That moment when Kondanna understood is sometimes referred to as the setting in motion of the wheel of the Dharma. The wheel of the Dharma has been rolling ever since, down the generations to us. Perhaps we should be called Kodannists rather than Buddhists!!

This point in the history of Buddhism is often symbolised by an eight spoked wheel – the spokes representing the eightfold path – and it is the origin of Buddhism. This is such a key point, this successful communication of the Dharma, that the wheel of Dharma –the Dharmachakra – is often used to symbolise Buddhism, in the way that the cross symbolises Christianity or the crescent moon symbolises Islam.
So these four Pratisamvids or analytical knowledges are about what the Bodhisattva does to become a supreme communicator of the Dharma. The first thing to note is that communication of the Dharma is not just about verbal communication.  It is worth noting that three of the Saghrahavastus – means of unification – are about doing rather than speaking. The most important communication of the Dharma is actually practising it. Only by practising the Dharma can we come to embody it to some degree and it is only by becoming loving, generous, mindful and so on that our verbal communication has the congruency and coherence to positively influence people. As the Dhammapada says “First establish yourself in what is good, then advise others” (verse 158).

Assuming we are practising ethics, meditation, study, friendship and going on retreat, then all of us have something to communicate. We may communicate through our actions, our example or verbally or in some other way.

If we are practising then what we can communicate is very valuable and can even be life saving for some people. There are many people in our Order and Movement who say that the Dharma literally saved their lives.
The four Sangrahavastus tell us that generosity, kindly speech, beneficial activity and exemplification are key ways to communicate the values and principles of Buddhsim and in that way contribute to the creation of Sangha. The four Pratisamvids go a bit further and suggest some very specific things to work on in order be a super-communicator of the Dharma – a Bodhisattva.

The first thing we need is experience. The first Pratisamvid is Dharma Pratisamvid, this can be translated as ‘knowledge of principles’ but what it is really getting at is that we need to have some experience of what we are trying to communicate to others. In order for our communication to have congruency it needs to be based in experience. The Buddha tried to communicate his experience of Enlightenment. We may communicate from our experience of being ethical or our experience of meditating or our experience of going on retreat. Often we have much more that we can share with others than we realise. We may think that we are only struggling to concentrate or that we are not very mindful or that we are always falling short of the ethical precepts or that we don’t understand the Dharma conceptually. And of course all of that is to some extent true, but nevertheless there will always be someone who has less experience who may benefit from what you have to give. If you have tried to meditate you will have something to say about meditation, if you have ever been on a retreat you will be able to give a first hand account of what it is like to be on retreat. So this Pratisamvid is encouraging us to practise so that we can be of benefit to others, so that we will have some authentic experience to share.

The second Pratisamvid is Artha Pratisamvid, which can be rendered as ‘knowledge of meaning’.  This is about knowing the conceptual formulations of the Dharma so that you have a framework for communicating. This is encouraging the study of the Suttas and of all the commentaries that are available to us. We don’t have to try to struggle through the Diamond Sutra or the Sutra of Golden Light, we can read Bhante’s commentaries. Sometimes it is helpful to look at the original texts after we have read a commentary so that we learn for ourselves how to approach these texts.
By studying the Dharma we also equip ourselves to communicate about things that we have no direct experience of. Of course we should be clear when we are quoting someone else or communicating what we have studied rather than what we have experienced. So this pratisamvid is encouraging us to study the Dharma, to have familiarity with some of the conceptual formulations, such as the eightfold Path or the Five Spiritual Faculties or the Three Lakshanas – not for the sake of knowing things but so that we can effectively communicate something of the Truth, something the Reality the Dharma, for the benefit of others.

The reason I can give talks and lead study etc., is because I have read and studied Bhante’s  commentaries and clarifications quite intensively and extensively. In my view if we are to practise effectively within the Triratna tradition we a thorough and deep knowledge of Bhante’s elucidation of the Dharma. We need to become experts in it. I have often encountered people involved with Triratna who think they have a thorough knowledge of Bhante’s teaching because they have done the Mitra study course and other study. But my own experience is that it is necessary to return again and again to the same texts to allow the teachings to affect you more deeply. And of course even after 33 years I have not read all of the seminars, there are many buried treasures – termas- to be unearthed in Bhante’s work.

If we don’t engage with our own teachers teachings we are in effect deciding to be own teacher and following our own path. This is consumerist Dharma – picking and choosing according to personal preference. And that is not really conducive to spiritual growth.

So that is Artha Pratisamvid , ‘knowledge of meaning’ , knowing the teachings.

So having mastered the first two Pratisamvids – having an experience of the Dharma and having knowledge of the concepts and ideas, we then come to the third Pratisamvid. This is Nirukti Pratisamvid. We could render this as ‘knowledge of words’ or more precisely ‘knowledge of etymology’.
This is about being able to communicate in the most effective and intelligible way. It’s not enough to have studied the Dharma, we also need to be able to speak about it in a way that effectively conveys the meaning we want to convey. So it’s important to have a sense of what words mean. This may involve having some idea of the etymology of words, but I think it is probably more important to have a sense of the provisional nature of words. It is as if all words are fingers pointing at the moon, all words are trying to give expression to something that is not the words themselves and therefore they are signposts, pointers. Having a sense of this provisional nature of words means that we don’t rely too much on one way of expressing things. For instance we are continually using metaphors and images in our speech and it’s good to have some awareness of this so that we can vary the images and metaphors we use. The other key thing we need to be aware of in relation to words is the tendency to be literal minded. It is very tempting to take things literally and allow the words and concepts to rule the direction of our thinking and our whole outlook on life. In the arena of Dharma practice we might for instance be fond of the metaphor of depth or the metaphor of height – as in going deeper in meditation or attaining higher states of consciousness and if we are too literal minded we could get into a whole argument about ways of practising and so on just on the basis of the images evoked by these metaphors. It is best for us to be aware of the provisional nature of words and the role of the imagination in interpreting language. Whole cultures have been influenced adversely by literal-mindedness, people have been persecuted and wars have been fought because of literal-mindedness. As Kamashila put’s it in a talk On the Eightfold Path,  Literalism means taking words at their face value instead of recognising their metaphorical resonance. Literalism happens when we stop trying to understand, when we think we know, and start going through the motions. It is characteristic of merely external religion.” 
Of course the other danger with words is that we don’t take them literally when they should be taken literally. We may sometimes try to avoid the impact of a teaching by trying to give a metaphorical slant to it, when actually it is intended quite literally. Our minds are wonderfully flexible and usually flexible in the service our very own ego empire building. So we could take the idea of a Path literally, as in the Noble Eightfold Path, when it is intended as a helpful image, but we might want to take the another teaching metaphorically when it should be understood in a straightforward way. For instance the Dhammapada says “Not by hatred are hatreds ever pacified here (in the world). They are pacified by love. This is the eternal law. Others do not realize that we are all heading for death. Those who do realize it will compose their quarrels.” Now if we have not composed our quarrels we may not want to accept that we are among those who do not realise that we are all heading for death and therefore we may be tempted to try to soften what the Buddha is saying by some rationalisation.

Anyway the point I am making is that when it comes to communicating the Dharma it is important that we try to not get caught up in misunderstanding simply because we don’t understand the words sufficiently or because we get too attached to particular metaphors or become blind to the principles behind the words. That’s Nirukti Pratisamvid – ‘knowledge of words’.

The fourth Pratisamvid is Pratibhana Pratisamvid, which can be rendered as ‘knowledge of courage’. It is not really about having knowledge of what courage is, it is about actually having courage or confidence. It is saying that when we are communicating the Dharma it is good to be prepared to communicate it at the time when it is needed. That again implies being very familiar with the concepts and ideas and with the stories and images of Buddhism. It also implies practising communicating so that you become more skilled at it. For instance we have Mitra Study sessions. These are discussions in a group and they are about helping us to understand the ideas and concepts but also about giving us practise in communicating our understanding and blending our experience with the traditional formulations of the Dharma. This is one of the reasons why it is valuable to study and discuss with others. It is a practice in sharpening our wits, making us familiar with the best ways of expressing ideas and showing us when we are failing to make ourselves understood. This pratisamvid is about developing the skill to be able to communicate with promptitude, clarity intelligence and wit when the need arises. Lack of confidence hampers us in all sorts of ways and in particular it can hamper our ability to share our experience of Buddhism with others. The Dharma is the greatest gift we can give and it would be a great shame if we didn’t train ourselves to be able to communicate well. We shouldn’t think that we are lacking in confidence and that’s the end of the story. If we are lacking in confidence we need to find ways to overcome that, ways to face our fears, liberate ourselves from our fears and become capable of giving others the gift of the Dharma. That is the path of the Bodhisattva.

The only way of overcoming fear that I have found that works for me is to face the fear. As the book title has it ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. As a shy and introverted person by nature and inclination it has been constant practice that has enabled me to become more confident and at ease in public situations. It is something I have to consciously work with still.  He other thing that gave me confidence was being ordained – I experienced that as a major affirmation by people I looked up to and respected.

The Bodhisattva is a Buddhist who is training to become an exemplar and communicator of the Dharma and the Sangrahavastus and Pratisamvids give an indication of the areas that we need to train in. Now in the traditional Mahayana teachings the ability to teach the Dharma is seen as a very high attainment – that is the ability to teach the Dharma perfectly.

The four Pratisamvids are mastered at the level of the ninth Bhumi, which is just on the threshold of Enlightenment. But we don’t need to expect ourselves to be perfect – the perfection comes from practice and from making mistakes. Making mistakes is an important part of the Bodhisattva practice. The alternative is to not do anything in order to avoid making mistakes. If we act or speak we are likely to sometimes make mistakes and the importance of mistakes is that they are a vital part of the learning process. If we hold ourselves back from doing things because of fear of making mistakes, we could, as Bhante puts it, ‘become someone with a great future behind them’.

In the mandala of the five Buddhas it is possible to see a progression of practices related to the Sangrahavastus and pratisamvids . We begin with Akshobya and his Mirror-like Wisdom, which reminds us of the need to be objective. If we are communicating it is important not to rely entirely on our own subjective experience or our interpretation of experience. We need to be as attuned to reality as possible, as objective as possible.This is similar to Artha Pratisamvid, knowledge of meaning as taught by the Buddha. Then we have Ratnasambhava and his association with Generosity, which is the first of the Sangrahavastus. Then Amitabha reminds us that we need to go deeper and experience the nature of reality for ourselves, which is what Dharma Pratisamvid is about. Then Amoghasiddhi encourages fearlessness, which is what the Pratibhana Pratisamvid – the knowledge of courage - is all about. Sitting at the centre of the mandala of the five Buddhas is Vairocana and his mudra is of course the teaching Mudra. What is at the Centre of the Mandala is what the whole mandala is all about and this is indicating that what is represented by all of the Buddhas culminates in the teaching of the Dharma. There is no Enlightenment which is not shared, because Compassion is innate to the Awakened consciousness and the greatest act of Compassion is to give the gift of the Dharma, which is the greatest gift.

When the Buddha had sixty disciples who shared his understanding and experience of the Dharma he gathered them together and he said:

Go ye now, O Bhikkhus, and wander, for the gain of the many, for the welfare of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, for the gain, and for the welfare of gods and men, Let not two of you go the same way, Preach, O Bhikkhus, the doctrine which is glorious in the beginning, glorious in the middle, glorious at the end, in the spirit and in the letter; proclaim a consummate, perfect, and pure life of holiness. There are beings whose mental eyes are covered by scarcely any dust, but if the doctrine is not preached to them, they cannot attain salvation.

This is what the whole Bodhisattva Path is about – it is the path to the most perfect Compassion, the compassion which endeavours to cure the sickness of humanity, not by assuaging the symptoms but by going to the root cause and by means of the Dharma helping people to liberate themselves from the causes of suffering.






Entering the Stream



Talk give at Sangha night in Cambridge Buddhist Centre March 2018 

Entering the stream is a metaphor. The image of a stream is also used in another way when speaking of crossing the stream. Here is a quote from the Pali Canon where these two streams are mentioned: “just as the calves and feeble cattle breasted the stream of the Ganges and got safely across to the other shore, so to those Bhikkhus who, with the destruction of three fetters, are stream – enterers, no longer subject to perdition, bound for deliverance, headed for enlightenment – by breasting Mara’s stream they to get safely to the other shore.” MN 34.9

So we need to be careful we don’t get our metaphors mixed up and end up in the wrong stream –  most of us are already in Mara’s stream and Mara is quite content for us to think we are in the stream of the Dharma.

What is the stream that a Stream Entrant enters into? In the Samyuta Nikaya, the Buddha asks this very question. He says: “Sariputta, the stream, the stream: thus it is said. And what, Sariputta is the stream?” “This noble eightfold path, Lord, is the stream: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.” “Very good, Sariputta! Very good – – this noble eightfold path is the stream.” SN 55.5

Now that might be a bit puzzling. The noble eightfold path is surely the very basics that anyone has to practice and here it is being equated with the stream that a Stream Entrant enters into. And elsewhere it says that when you attain Stream Entry what you have to do is practice the noble eightfold path. As many of you will know there are two noble eightfold paths – there is the mundane eightfold path and the supramundane eightfold path. In the Majjhima Nikaya – the sutta called The Great Forty (117) – the Buddha goes through the eightfold path in terms of a path that is still “affected by taints, partaking of merit” and the path that is “noble, taintless, supramundane.” So it is this supramundane eightfold path that is the stream which the Stream Entrant enters into and practices. Stream Entry is traditionally known as a Dassana Marga and the other three higher paths of Once Returner, Non-Returner and Arahant are known as bhavana. Dassana means seeing. Bhavana means development. So there is the path of seeing and the path of development. This is what Bhante refers to as the paths of vision and transformation.

One the practices the mundane eightfold path and that leads to seeing, Dassana, vision – Stream Entry and on the basis of that one practices the supramundane eightfold path – the path of Bhavana, development. This is what the tradition tells us.

How does one enter the stream – how does one attain to seeing or vision? By the way, the metaphor of opening the Dharma Eye is frequently used together with the image of entering the stream. The Dharma eye opens – we see something more clearly and as a result we enter the stream. It may be a mixed metaphor but it kind of works. We have a natural tendency to want to pin down these descriptions and interrogate them to get a clearer idea of what is being said. But the whole point of using images/metaphor is to point towards something without pinning it down. Metaphors are intended to circumvent the natural tendency to be literal minded and to want to concretise everything.

Anyway Buddhists down the ages have not been deterred by metaphors and images and attempts have constantly being made throughout the history of Buddhism to tie things down, to categorise and label and define and subdivide and analyse and so on. And of course this is useful. It is useful to have a bag of tools but having a bag of tools is not the same thing as accomplishing the task.Other ways we can try to pin down this image of entering the stream is to look at the first three fetters which the Stream Entrant is said to break through. So now we have another image – fetters. This teaching is saying that ordinary people are firmly bound, imprisoned by ten fetters. According to the dictionary a fetter is “a chain or manacle used to restrain a prisoner, typically placed around the ankles”. That is a strong image and that has how we seem from the Awakened perspective. We look like we are shackled, restrained, imprisoned. The prison we are in is the prison of our own hearts and minds and we are fettered by our delusions. The first three fetters according to the Pali Canon are:
Satkayadrsthi – usually translated as self view
Vicikitsa – usually translated as doubt and indecision
Shilavrata-paramarsha – usually translated as reliance on rites and rituals

Satkayadrsthi is the view that I constitute something ultimate, that I as I am here and now represent an unchanging fixed entity. The breaking of this Fetter involves realising that we do not have any fixed, unchanging essence beneath or behind the ever changing body and mind. This is the Buddhist doctrine of anatman. Atman is a soul or essence. Everything else changes but Atman remains the same, it is unchanging and eternal. This is the view that is contradicted by the Buddha. The Buddha says we do not have any self in the sense of Atman, something fixed and unchanging behind the flux and the flow of body and mind. We do not have an eternal soul. The view that I have a fixed self/soul/atman is a delusion which is a Fetter, a shackle and holds us back from Awakening.

At Stream Entry we break this view to some degree. There are always degrees on the greadual path of Buddhist practice. So we can quite easily see through this view intellectually – that doesn’t make us a Stream Entrant because our behaviour may still be strongly influenced by our felt need to protect and defend and strengthen our fixed self, even if intellectually we don’t believe in its existence. Views are not just ideas, they are motivating forces. The forces that motivate us have their roots in our human evolution, in our individual psychology and conditioning, and in our emotional tendencies. So breaking the first Fetter is not just a matter of nodding assent to the notion that we don’t have an eternal soul. It’s not even enough to accept the idea that we are constantly changing physically, mentally and emotionally. Breaking a Fetter means seeing deeply enough into the delusion so that the seeing affects our behaviour. You could say there are three levels to this ‘seeing’ – first is knowing, as in being familiar with and accepting the teaching, second is experiencing, as in seeing something for ourselves and the third is embodying – Bhavana, we become what we have seen.

Bhante has talked about the three fetters much more in terms of our actual experience – which makes it clearer what we need to do. He calls the first Fetter the Fetter of habit. What we identify with as myself is basically a bunch of habits. A habitual way of being, a habitual way of seeing ourselves, a habitual way of relating to the world, a habitual way of doing things, habitual responses, habitual thoughts, habitual emotions. He says: “breaking the Fetter of habit means essentially getting out of the habit of being a particular kind of person.” You need to gain some awareness of the habit you are in order to break free of it. And you do that with the help of your friends and with the help of meditation. I said there are degrees to breaking the Fetter of self view so even after the Stream Entrant has broken the first Fetter of self view there still remains self view. This is explained in the Samyuta Nikaya – Khemaka who is a monk has attained the level of Non-Returner – two steps further on from Stream Entry – and he  is explaining how although he has broken the first five fetters, he still has the conceit “I am” which lingers until all the fetters are broken. “He says: “friends, it’s not that I say “I am form”, nor do I say “I am something other than form”. It’s not that I say “I am feeling, – perception, conditions, consciousness,” nor do I say “I am something other than consciousness”. With regard to these five clinging aggregates, “I am” has not been overcome, although I don’t assume that “I am this”.

Stream Entry is a particular level of seeing through the illusion of a fixed unchanging self but it is not a complete seeing through.

The next Fetter is Vicikitsa – translated as doubt or sometimes as uncertainty. It’s a sort of hesitation, wavering. It’s the “but” that gives a voice to our resistance. It sounds good but – – –; I can see it’s a good thing, but – – –, I know it would be good for me, but – – – –. It’s not a state of total disbelief in the path or the goal but it’s not quite a conviction either. It’s this hovering in between kind of state – a refusal to take a stand, to make a commitment, to act decisively. It’s a fear of jumping in, being content to look on, without fully participating. This Fetter is arguably the most important one to break through. When we come to look at the different lists of the attributes of a Stream Entrant, we find that what is given prominence in all the lists is the absolute conviction of the Stream Entrant in the Buddha Dharma and Sangha. The Stream Entrant is someone whose faith, shraddha, in the three jewels is firm and irreversible. That is the primary characteristic of Stream Entrant.

This Fetter of doubtfulness, this Fetter of wavering, is the key Fetter to break – because if we are full of indecision we will not be able to apply ourselves to practice in such a way as to break through the Fetter of habit, the Fetter of self view. Bhante talks about this Fetter is the Fetter of vagueness and he says that the antidote is thinking clearly. If we are indecisive and vague in this way we need to think things through and look honestly at the alternatives we have and sort out our priorities in life. It means coming to some sort of decision, making up our minds and being willing to act wholeheartedly on the basis of our decision, our choice. It can be that people spend part of their life wholeheartedly pursuing one set of goals and then switch to a spiritual path. That is not the smoothest way, but maybe the best or only way for some people. I think that for many people doubt is not overcome by thinking but by having a heartfelt response to other people who have faith. Faith or conviction is embodied in people and sometimes coming into contact with that, becoming friends with people who have conviction, is the way to develop faith and conviction, to overcome doubt and indecision. This is one of the reasons why Dharma friendship is so important.

The third Fetter is Shilavrata – paramarsha. ‘Shila’ means a precept or moral observance or rule. ‘Vrata’ means a religious practice or observance – a ritual. So Shilavrata is moral rules and rituals. Paramarsha means attachment or clinging. So the Fetter is about attachment to or clinging to moral rules and rituals as ends in themselves or it is sometimes thought of in terms of superstition, taboos, conventions and rituals to propitiate the gods. Thanissaro Bhikkhu translates it as “protective charms and ceremonies”. And it is contrasted with a trust in karma. Bhante talks about this Fetter is the Fetter of superficiality.

A superficial Dharma practice is one where we meditate, do Puja and even observe the precepts without reflection, without understanding why. We need to ask ourselves – what is the point of this practice? Is it effective? Do I understand what I’m doing and why I am doing it? The superficiality is about acting from the surface of ourselves – not going deeper. If we act from the surface we are not being wholehearted, we are not bringing the whole of ourselves to the practice. This means that we will be acting from the conscious, rational and sentimental level and leaving out our unconscious depths, our deeper motives and drives. He recommends commitment as the antidote. Commitment is acting with the whole of ourselves as far as we can.

That’s something about the three fetters that are broken by a Stream Entrant. How do we break these fetters according to the tradition – what is the path to Stream Entry? The Samyuta Nikaya lays it out neatly for us in a list of four factors. It says:
 “Association with people of integrity is a factor for Stream Entry
listening to the true Dharma is a factor for Stream Entry
appropriate attention is a factor for Stream Entry
practice in accordance with the true Dharma is a factor for Stream Entry.”

These four constitute the path. The path begins with associating with people of integrity as this translator puts it or sometimes it just says good people or admirable people. The word is Pali is ‘sappurisa’ and literally means ‘true man’ or even ‘true individual’. This is about having a teacher or teachers – people we can learn from – by listening to what they are saying and by following their example. This is what we speak about as Kalyana Mitrata or Dharma friendship. Here is how the Buddha puts it in the Itivuttika: “with regard to external factors, I don’t envision any other single factor like friendship with admirable people as doing so much for a monk in training, who has not attained the goal but remains intent on the unsurpassed safety from bondage. A monk who is a friend with admirable people abandons what is unskilful and develops what is skilful.” This is followed by a verse:
“a monk who is a friend
to admirable people
-       Who’s reverential, respectful,
doing what his friends advise –
mindful, alert,
attains step by step
the ending of all fetters.”

Some of the qualities of a person of integrity or an admirable person are drawn out in different places in the Pali Canon. In the Anguttara Nikaya 3.133 the Buddha says: “a friend endowed with these three qualities is worth associating with. Which three? They give what is hard to give, do what is hard to do and endures what is hard to endure”. Elsewhere in the Anguttara Nikaya it says: “a person of integrity is grateful and acknowledges the help given to him. This gratitude, this acknowledgement is second nature among admirable people. It is entirely on the level of people of integrity.” 2.31 it also talks about a person of integrity as someone who rejoices in other people and doesn’t speak ill of them.

So the steps leading to Stream Entry begin with associating with admirable people – Kalyana mitras – Dharma friends. Then it goes through the stages of listening to the teachings, giving appropriate attention to the teachings and putting them into practice. You can see that involves developing clarity and commitment, which according to Bhante enables us to break the fetters of doubt and superficiality. With regards to listening to the Dharma the Anguttara Nikaya mentions five rewards:
“One hears what one has not heard before
One clarifies what one has heard before
One gets rid of doubt
one’s views are made straight
one’s mind grows serene.”

As regards appropriate attention (this is a translation of yoniso maniskara, often translated as wise attention) the Majjhima Nikaya suggests that the questions we should be asking a teacher are: “what is skilful, what is unskilful, what is blameworthy, what is blameless? What should be cultivated, what should not be cultivated? What having been done by me will be for my long-term harm and suffering? Or what having been done by me will be for my long-term happiness and welfare.”

In other words it is recommending that we go into what is of practical benefit to us on the path. Elsewhere the Majjhima Nikaya gives an example of inappropriate attention: “this is how one attends inappropriately: was I in the past? Was I not in the past? What was I in the past? How was I in the past? Having been what, what was I in the past? Shall I be in the future? Shall I not be in the future? What shall I be in the future? How shall I be in the future? Having been what what shall I be in the future? Or else he is inwardly perplexed about the immediate present: Am I? Am I not? What am I? How am I? Where has this being come from? Where is it bound?” And it suggests that this leads to a thicket of views – in other words confusion.

Practice in accordance with the Dharma is basically a matter of developing right view and it begins with associating with people who are truly good. Here is how it is laid out in the Anguttara Nikaya: “now, I tell you, clear knowing and release have their nutriment. They are not without nutriment. And what is their nutriment? The seven factors for Awakening… And what is the nutriment for the seven factors for Awakening? The four establishings of mindfulness… And what is the nutriment for the four establishings of mindfulness? The three forms of right conduct… And what is the nutriment for three forms of right conduct? Restraint of the senses… And what is the nutriment for restraint of the senses? Mindfulness and alertness… And what is the nutriment for mindfulness and alertness? Appropriate attention… And what is the nutriment for appropriate attention? Conviction… And what is the nutriment for conviction? Hearing the true Dharma… And what is the nutriment for hearing the true Dharma? Associating with people who are truly good…
Just as when the gods pour rain in heavy drops and crash thunder on the upper mountains: the water, flowing down along the slopes, fills the mountain clefts and rifts and gullies… The little ponds… The big lakes… The little rivers… The big rivers. When the big rivers are full, they fill the great Ocean and thus is the great Ocean fed, thus is it filled. In the same way when associating with truly good people is brought to fulfilment, it fulfils the conditions for hearing the true Dharma… Conviction… Appropriate attention… Mindfulness and alertness… Restraint of the senses… The three forms of right conduct… the four establishings of mindfulness… The seven factors for Awakening. When the seven factors for Awakening are brought to fulfilment they fulfil the conditions for clear knowing and release. Thus is clear knowing and release fed, thus is it brought to fulfilment.” AN 10:61

This is the path leading to Stream Entry and the basis of the whole path – the foundation, is Dharma friendship – associating with people of integrity, admirable people, good people – Kalyana Mitrata is the beginning of the path to Stream Entry and the essential ingredient at every stage – to guard against delusion, inappropriate attention or practising in the wrong way.

Now I want to say something about the characteristics and attributes of a Stream Entrant as laid out in the Pali Canon. There are a number of lists of the characteristics of a Stream Entrant. Often they are lists of four attributes of the Stream Entrant, not always the same four. The factor that is common to all the lists is conviction or faith. In fact it usually accounts for three of the four things in the lists  – so you have unwavering confidence in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha as the first three characteristics of the Stream Entrant and then the fourth the characteristic may be “virtues that are appealing to the noble ones” – usually meaning a high degree of skilfulness. Or the fourth attribute may be generosity or it may be wisdom or right view.

I’m not going to go into all these lists. I will just mention generosity as there is an interesting bit in the Anguttara Nikaya about how a person of integrity gives a gift. It says: “a person of integrity gives a gift with a sense of conviction. A person of integrity gives a gift attentively. A person of integrity gives a gift in season. A person of integrity gives a gift with an empathetic heart. A person of integrity gives a gift without adversely affecting himself or others.” AN 5:148

What I will do is go through briefly a list of the seven characteristics of a Stream Entrant from the Kosambiya sutta in the Majjhima Nikaya (48). The first is that the Stream Entrant’s mind is free of the five hindrances – the text says not obsessed by or enthralled by the five hindrances or by speculation about this world or the other world and also not obsessed with arguing, quarrelling and disputing, stabbing others with verbal daggers. So that’s the first characteristic of a Stream Entrant, not being obsessed or enthralled by any of these things; the hindrances, speculation or disputing.

Secondly, a Stream Entrant experiences serenity.

Thirdly a Stream Entrant as a full confidence in the Dharma Vinaya – the teachings and practices.

Fourthly, the Stream Entrant is ethical – it says “although he may commit some kind of offence for which a means of rehabilitation has been laid down, still he immediately confesses, reveals and discloses it to the teacher or to wise companions in the holy life; having done that, he undertakes restraint for the future.”

The fifth characteristic of a Stream Entrant is that even though he or she may be active in helping or teaching others, they never neglect their own practice.

The sixth characteristic is that they are eager to hear the Dharma being taught and give it a full attention.

And the seventh characteristic of a Stream Entrant is that when the Dharma is being taught they become inspired and delighted.

So those are the characteristics or attributes of someone who is a Stream Entrant;  their mind is not occupied by the hindrances, by speculations by quarrelling arguing and disputing. They are serene. They have complete faith in the Dharma and practices. They are very ethically skilful and confess even small indiscretions. They keep up their own practice, while helping others. They are eager for Dharma teaching. They are inspired and delighted by the Dharma.

In the Suvajra’s book, The Wheel And The Diamond, about the life of Dhardo Rimpoche, he says: “Dhardo Rimpoche had not felt like a great Lama, although everybody had treated him as one. It nevertheless occurred to him that, despite his feelings, we should try to act like a tulku by developing wisdom and compassion. Over the course of time he had become a Rimpoche.”

It occurs to me that we could apply the same to Stream Entry. Many of us may naturally enough from time to time wonder where we are on the spiritual path – we may even want to know if we are Stream Entrants. One way of answering this question, if you are really unsure and it bothers you, could be to assume that you are Stream Entrant and then to behave like one. If we behave like Stream Entrants, then whether we are or not we will be going in the right direction. When the Buddha was alive he seems to have had no hesitation in pointing out who was a Stream Entrant although at the same time he often made the distinction that when he said somebody was a Stream Entrant it was because he knew, whereas when Ananda or Sariputta or somebody else said it. it was because they had great faith. Some of you may interested to know that in a sutta called Advice from Nandika in the Majjhima Nikaya (146)  the Buddha announces to the monks that 500 Bhikkhunis, female disciples, are Stream Entrants and beyond.

I want to start to bring this talk to a close by considering two further questions: firstly what are the benefits of Stream Entry, and secondly, what comes after Stream Entry. According to the Samyuta Nikaya, the Buddha says a Stream Entrant will have a long life, beauty, happiness, status and influence.SN55:30. He also says that Stream Entry overcomes death proximate karma. Mahanama, who is a Stream Entrant, tells the Buddha that sometimes when he’s out and about in the city he encounters various calamities and accidents – “I meet with a runaway elephant, a runaway horse, a runaway chariot, a runaway cart, or a runaway person. At times like that, my mindfulness with regard to the Blessed one gets muddled, my mindfulness with regard to the Dharma… The Sangha gets muddled. The thought occurs to me, if I were to die at this moment, what would be my destination? What would be my future course?” And the Buddha replies: “have no fear, Mahanama. Have no fear. Your death will not be a bad one, your demise will not be bad. If one’s mind has long been nurtured with conviction, nurtured with virtue, nurtured with learning, nurtured with generosity, nurtured with discernment, then when the body is eaten by crows, vultures, hawks, dogs, hyenas, or all sorts of creatures, nevertheless the mind – long nurtured with conviction, virtue, learning, generosity and discernment rises upwards and separates out.”SN55:21

So those are some of the benefits of gaining Stream Entry according to the Buddha. And of course only a maximum of seven more lifetimes and to awakening.

The last question is – what is the next step for a Stream Entrant? Stream Entry is  ‘dassana’– seeing, vision and what follows is ‘bhavana’, development, transformation.

I already mentioned the supramundane eightfold path is the path of practice for a Stream Entrant. Another way of seeing it is that Stream Entry occurs at the eighth stage of the spiral of positive nidanas, the stage of knowledge and vision of things as they really are. So the next step for the Stream Entrant is the following four nidanas or immediately, the nidana of disentanglement. Bhante refers to this stage as the stage of withdrawal. He says: “this stage represents a clean, even serene, withdrawal from involvement in conditioned things. When you deeply see, when you really realise, that conditioned things, all the things with which you normally come into contact, are unsatisfactory, that they’re going to pass away, and that there is no real truth or reality them, you become less and less attached to them. You withdraw from them, you lose interest. This stage of withdrawal is a sort of sitting loose to life. You may be doing what is necessary objectively, but subjectively you’re not caught up in it. This is what is meant by withdrawal. You’re still part of the conditioned, but in your heart you have withdrawn from it.” What is the Dharma p.121.

Another hint at the next step for a Stream Entrant is in the Mahaparinibbana sutta, the account of the Buddha’s last days and death. In the sutta the Buddha at one point says to Ananda: “in this assembly there is not one monk who has doubts or uncertainty about the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha or about the path of practice. Ananda, the least one of these 500 monks is a Stream Winner, incapable of falling into states of woe, certain of Nibbana.” And then he gives these Stream Entrants his final exhortation: “all conditioned things are impermanent – strive on diligently” or “with heedfullness strive on”. appamadena sampadetha. However you translate it, he is basically saying, continue to make an effort. So that was the Buddha’s final advice to Stream Entrants.

In the Samyuta Nikaya Sariputta is more explicit. He is asked by the venerable Maha Kotthita : “Sariputta my friend which things should a virtuous monk attend to in an appropriate way?” Sariputta answers: “a virtuous monk, Kotthita my friend, should attend in an appropriate way to the five clinging aggregates as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a dissolution, and an emptiness, not self. Which five? Form, feeling, perception, fabrications, consciousness. For it is possible that a virtuous monk, attending in an appropriate way to these five clinging aggregates would realise the fruit of Stream Entry.” Maha Kotthita then goes on to ask him the same question in relation to a Stream Entrant, Once Returner,  Non-Returner and Arahant and Sariputta gives the same answer except that he says that a Stream Entrant could become a Once Returner, a Once Returner could become a Non-Returner, a Non-Returner could become an Arahant. And as for an Arahant he says: “although, for an Arahant, there is nothing further to do, and nothing to add to what has been done, still these things (meaning appropriate attention to the five skandhas) – when developed and pursued – lead both to a pleasant abiding in the here and now and to mindfulness and alertness.”

So I think the message is whether you are a Stream Entrant or not a Stream Entrant or wherever you are on the spiritual path you just need to get on and practice. “With diligence strive on “  as the Buddha said.