Saturday, 4 August 2018

Every Day is Dharma Day – The Six Recollections


A talk given in Cambridge for Dharma Day 2017
It was a a few sentences that are repeated like a refrain in this Sutta ( The Mahanama Sutta) that caught my attention and led me to want to explore it further. It says:
"Mahanama, you should develop this recollection (of the Buddha) while you are walking, while you are standing, while you are sitting, while you are lying down, while you are busy at work, while you are resting in your home crowded with children.”
So this Sutta is basically about 6 different reflections or recollections which the Buddha is recommending and which he seems to think it is possible to bear in mind whatever you’re doing or whatever the circumstances.
Many of us do not have time to do a lot of meditation or Puja or put aside time for quiet reflection – so perhaps this is a practice for those who are time-poor.
The basic practice is to bring to mind six different things one at a time and just let your mind dwell on them. They are called the six Anussatis – sati means mindfulness or awareness and anussati is constant mindfulness.
The six anussatis or six recollections are:
Recollecting the Buddha
Recollecting the Dharma
Recollecting the Sangha
Recollecting your own generosity
Recollecting your own virtues or your integrity
Recollecting the gods – this last one will need a bit of explanation .

So I’ll just go through these six this morning and give some pointers as to how we might do this practice and then after the tea break we will do it as a meditation. It doesn’t have to be done as a sitting meditation of course as the Buddha indicates in the Sutta. I think the best way to do it in daily life would be to devote a certain period of time to each one – a day, a week, a month, a year!!
So what does it mean to recollect the Buddha. Traditionally this is about bringing to mind the qualities of the Buddha as repeated often in the scriptures and recited in the chanting of the Tiratana Vandana.
The Tiratana Vandana starts with same line as the Refuges and Precepts: ‘Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammāsaṁbuddhassa.’ As with the Refuges, the very first words – ‘namo tassa’, means ‘respectful salutations to him’ –. Bhagavato implies someone who stands out from everyone else, someone who has the highest spiritual qualities, someone awe inspiring, someone sublime, someone auspicious. The Buddha is also ‘arahato’ – worthy or noble – and ‘sammāsaṁbuddhassa’ – really and truly awake. The next verse then emphasises the truth of what has been said: ‘Such indeed is he’ (‘Iti’pi so’). He really is like this. He truly is awake, while we are still asleep and dreaming; and because he is not compulsively chasing pleasures as in a dream and running away from fears as in a dream, he is free, while we are imprisoned by the delusional reality we experience. He is ‘equipped with knowledge (‘vijjā’) and practice (‘carana’).’ In other words his Insight is not merely an intellectual understanding – he is not someone who speaks well, but whose live is ruled by the same conventional worldly concerns as everybody else. He has attained to real happiness (‘sugato’), because he is living in reality, not in delusion. And he is the ‘Knower of the Worlds’ (‘loka-vidū’) – his vision is beyond anything we can conceive, beyond anything we can imagine . For all these reasons he is ‘the Unsurpassed Guide of those to be tamed’ – ‘anuttaro purisa-damma sāratī’. The Pāli word ‘purisa-damma’, which is translated as ‘men to be tamed’ in the Puja Book, acccording to Sangharakshita means something more like, ‘those who wish to be more controlled’, or perhaps even ‘people of the Dharma.’ We count ourselves as people who wish to be more controlled, and less given over to greed hatred and delusion; so he is the teacher we need to follow. He is ‘Unsurpassed’ or foremost, (‘anuttaro’), far above any other teacher, and therefore far more important to us than any currently fashionable writer or thinker
So this is the traditional way of recollecting the Buddha, but we don’t need to stop there we can be creative with the practice. We could for instance recollect some of our favourite stories from the live of the Buddha – Kisa Gotami, Meghiya the Aniruddhas and so on. We could reflect on the life of the Buddha and the legacy he has left. We could read books like Gautama by Vishavapani or Life of the Buddha by Nanamoli. We could reflect on the archetypal Buddhas of later Buddhism – Akshobya, Amitabha, Ratnasambhava, Amoghasiddi and Vairocana. We could ask ourselves how we relate to the Buddha or what image comes to mind when we think of the Buddha – is it a seated figure in meditation or someone walking the dusty roads of Northern India or someone teaching the Dharma to a gathering of people – we could allow this image to develop in our minds and become more vivid. Chanting a mantra is another way to recollect the Buddha. For myself, I love to read the stories in the Pali Canon of the Buddha’s interactions with all sorts of different people. In these stories I can often get a glimpse of the Buddha’s humanity and his great wisdom and compassion.
Then there is recollection of the Dharma. Again the traditional form is as it appears in the Tiratana Vandana –
The second part of the Tiratana Vandana starts with a hymn in praise of the Dharma – ‘Dhamma’ in Pāli – in which we call to mind the positive qualities of the teaching, and our gratitude, respect and reverence for it. The teaching is described as ‘bhagavatā Dhammo’ – the Dharma of a Buddha. This is no ordinary teaching, on a par with the other systems of thought.
In Sangharakshita’s words ‘The Dhamma [is] an expression in words… of the ultimate reality of things. The Dhamma as the Buddha's teaching … [is] His communication of, His experience of, the ultimate reality of things. [It] is the Dhamma which has issued from the mind, or the spiritual realization, of a Buddha, a perfectly enlightened one, and not something which has been fabricated intellectually, or put together in an eclectic manner from sources.’
This is a teaching that comes from a higher dimension of being. It is a teaching worthy of reverence, to which we can honourably bow our heads. This Dharma is also ‘well communicated’ – ‘svākkhāto’ – and put into a form that we can understand, using not only rational discourse, but also parables, metaphors, and poetic imagery. The teaching is also ‘immediately apparent’ – ‘sandiṭṭhiko’. It has an observable effect, which we do not need to wait for the next life to experience. If we practice the metta bhavana, for example, we will notice an effect on our emotions and our relationships with others. If we go on retreat, our mental states will be altered. This is a matter of experience, not speculation. We could call to mind at this point the ways in which the Dharma has affected us, stimulating our faith that it will have ever greater effects in the future. The Dharma is ‘perrenial’ – ‘akāliko’, which means timeless, free from time, or outside of time. At one level this may point to the fact that the Dharma is like a message from a higher dimension of reality, a dimension that is outside of time. At a more down-to earth level it means that the essence of the Dharma is true in any historical period and in any culture, even though it may be in conflict with the values and worldviews that happen to be fashionable in any particular time or place. The Dharma is also ‘of the nature of a personal invitation’ – ‘ehipassiko’. The Pāli ‘ehi’ literally means ‘come’, and ‘passiko’ means ‘see’. So it is the ‘come-and-see Dharma’. Nobody is forcing us to practice it. We are invited to try it out, to see if it works. We keep practicing because we know from experience that it does us good. We have benefitted from it in the past, and we expect to benefit in the future. Then the Dharma is ‘Progressive’ – ‘opanayiko’. Opanayiko means leading forward or leading onward. The Dharma leads us forward step by step and stage by stage, opening our eyes gradually, as our whole inner being develops. It is a path of organic growth that is progressive and evolutionary, so it does not ask us to take on anything we are not ready for, and there are always practices we can do that suit our present condition. Finally the Dharma is ‘to be understood individually by the wise’ – ‘paccataṁ veditabbo viññūhi'ti’. (‘Paccataṁ’ means ‘personally’; ‘veditabbo’ means ‘to be known’; ‘viññūhi'ti’ means ‘by those who are wise’, or ‘by those who understand.’) The Dharma is not a dogma we must accept on blind faith. We need to explore it, to understand it for ourselves, and to make it our own.
So those are the qualities of the Dharma that are brought to mind in the traditional practice of Dhammanusati – Recollection of the Dharma.  We could also think about what first attracted us to the Dharma for instance and why and what part that plays in our practice now. We could bring to mind symbols of the Dharma like the Dharmachakra, the wheel of the Dharma or images like the Path, the Rain of the Dharma or the Lotus or fire. The important thing is to make a connection with what inspires you and allow yourself to be uplifted and let yourself experience reverence or gratitude or whatever emerges.
We can also recollect the Dharma as elucidated by Bhante Sangharakshita – perhaps you have favourite teachings – mind reactive and creative, the five stages of spiritual life, building the Buddhaland, the group,the individual and the spiritual community, the higher evolution,the new society.
Then comes the third reflection – recollection of the Sangha. This is the third verse of the Tiratana Vandana.
As with the Buddha and Dharma, the third part of the Tiratana Vandana opens with a number of phrases in praise of the third Jewel, the Sangha. The Sangha is referred to as ‘Bhagavato sāvakasaṅgho’ – the spiritual community of those who are disciples of, those who are open to, the Buddha and his teaching. This Sangha is ‘happily proceeding’ – ‘supaṭipanno’. The members of this community proceed well and happily, treading a positive path, moving forward on a path of practice, and they are doing this happily. They are also ‘uprightly proceeding’ – ‘ujupatipanno’. ‘Uju’ means ‘straight’, so this could be taken to mean that the members of the Sangha are on the direct, straight path to spiritual progress; but the word ‘uprightly’ used in the translation seems to carry a strong hint of ethical uprightness, also implying that the Sangha proceeds ethically, with integrity and honesty, and with the upright dignity that an ethical life confers. The Sangha are also ‘methodically proceeding’ – ‘ñāyapaṭipanno’. They practice systematically, according to a definite method, where each stage builds on what went before. The final way in which the Sangha is said to be ‘proceeding’ is ‘sāmicipaṭipano’. In our Puja Book this is tranlated as ‘correctly proceeding’, but in his seminar on the Tiratana Vandana, Sangharakshita gave a more inspiring interpretation – harmoniously proceeding, proceeding together, proceeding in harmony. We do not just practice the Dharma for our own spiritual progress, we practice to create a harmonious community, and this is essential to our development as individuals. Harmony among its members would be an important part of any adequate definition of the Sangha. This fellowship of the Buddhas disciples is worthy of worship (‘āhuneyyo’), worthy of hospitality (‘pāhuneyyo’), worthy of offerings (‘dakkhineyo’), and worthy of salutation(‘añjalikaraniyo’).
And the reason that these people are worthy of this level of respect is that they are ‘an incomparable source of goodness to the world’ – ‘anuttaraṁ puññakhettam lokassā’ti’. At this point we could call to mind all the great figures of the Buddhist tradition, as well as all the unknown people who have made their own contribution, and we could include any present-day members of the Sangha we have a particular respect for. We could connect with our sense of gratitude for the great gift these people have given us, and perhaps imagine ourselves bowing to them respectfully, with folded hands because people who transmit the Dharma to future generations – such people are indeed an ‘incomparable source of goodness to the world.’ We could reflect on the importance of Sangha, we could reflect on the truth of interdependence  and we could refelect on Sangha as a practice that we do.
I like to bring to mind any large gatherings of the Sangha I have experienced, such as Festival Days, Order Conventions, or any event where we come together to practice and to chat and enjoy each others company.
Then we come to reflection on our own generosity. This is what the Sutta says:
"Furthermore, there is the case where you recollect your own generosity: 'It is a gain, a great gain for me, that — among people overcome with the stain of possessiveness — I live at home, my awareness cleansed of the stain of possessiveness, freely generous, openhanded, delighting in being magnanimous, responsive to requests, delighting in the distribution of alms.' At any time when a disciple of the noble ones is recollecting generosity, his mind is not overcome with passion, not overcome with aversion, not overcome with delusion. His mind heads straight, based on generosity. And when the mind is headed straight, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal, gains a sense of the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous, the body grows calm. One whose body is calmed experiences ease. In one at ease, the mind becomes concentrated.
So you can bring to mind acts of generosity and you can reflect on how to be less possessive, how to be as the sutta says “ cleansed of the stain of possessiveness”. You can bring to mind ways in which you are already open-handed, already non-attached, not possessive. You can bring to mind what it feels like to be generous – the feelings of joy or expansiveness. And of course you can go deeper into reflecting what it means be responsive to requests, delighting in the distribution of alms – as the Sutta says. You can reflect on what it means to be generous, why it’s important and how you do it.
You can reflect on how the practice of generosity can help to loosen any tightness around money or material things and move us out of a poverty mentality into a sense of abundance, a sense of freedom. This feeling of freedom is the beginnings of a more complete sense of non-attachment and that sense of non-attachment is the precursor to a letting go of any sense of a fixed and separate self. When we begin to go beyond our attachment to a fixed a separate self, then we are partaking of the wisdom of the Buddha and our sense of abundance and generosity expands continuously.
Then there is the fifth recollection - Recollection of your virtues. This is what the Sutta says:
"Furthermore, there is the case where you recollect your own virtues: '[They are] unbroken, flawless, unblemished, liberating, praised by the wise, untarnished, conducive to concentration.' At any time when a disciple of the noble ones is recollecting virtue, his mind is not overcome with passion, not overcome with aversion, not overcome with delusion. His mind heads straight, based on virtue. And when the mind is headed straight, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal, gains a sense of the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous, the body grows calm. One whose body is calmed experiences ease. In one at ease, the mind becomes concentrated.
So the reason for recollecting your own integrity, your own virtues, is that while you are doing that your mind is free from greed, aversion and delusion. You could do this practice by bringing the positive precepts to mind and reflecting on how you practice non-violence, contentment, honesty and mindfulness. You could reflect on how your ethical life has changed and improved over time. You could bring to mind your good qualities. This is very like the first stage of the Metta Bhavana.
For some reason many people are wary of rejoicing in their own worth and even find it difficult to accept genuine praise or rejoicings from others. This may be due to a fear of being thought arrogant or it may be due to low self-esteem or it may be a fear of the responsibility that comes with strength and awareness. Whatever the reason, it is important to be able to have a realistic appraisal of yourself – not rejecting your weaknesses or your strengths. It can really hold us back if we are attached to view of ourselves as worthless or incapable – incapable of understanding or practising or contributing. If we are involved in any groups such as study groups, GFR groups, Order Chapters, class teams – we can have sessions of rejoicing in each others merits and keeping a note of what is said. We can then use that note of what others have said to aid recollection of our own virtues.
The final recollection is the recollection of the gods. The gods here symbolise any higher states of consciousness – higher than greed, aversion and delusion. This recollection is also specifically about faith or confidence in spiritual practice. The way it’s explained is that to be born as a god you need to have sufficient faith in spiritual practice to do it over a long period of time. So what you are recollecting in this stage is your spiritual aspiration, your confidence in spiritual practice and the fruits of your practice so far. Reflecting on the fruits of your practice increases your confidence.
This brings to mind the earth touching mudra of the Buddha, which is a gesture of confidence. ( the previous recollection – recollecting our own virtues – is a kind of touching the earth).
In this final recollection you could reflect on the occasions when you have experienced greater happiness or greater awareness or greater confidence – perhaps on retreat. Or you could reflect on what you really have confidence in or even what it means to have confidence in something.

So those are the six recollections, the six anussatis that the Buddha recommended to Mahanama. He says that this practice is beneficial because in whoever does it:
“his mind is not overcome with passion, not overcome with aversion, not overcome with delusion. His mind heads straight, based on the [qualities of the] devas. And when the mind is headed straight, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal, gains a sense of the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous, the body grows calm. One whose body is calmed experiences ease. In one at ease, the mind becomes concentrated.”
In other words, doing this practice gives you a sense of what your life is about and having a sense of what your life is really about is calming and conduces to happiness. This is a mindfulness practice rather than a meditation practice, which means you don’t have to sit in meditation posture etc. This is a practice to be taken into the activities of your everyday life. As the Sutta says: “you should develop this recollection (of the Buddha) while you are walking, while you are standing, while you are sitting, while you are lying down, while you are busy at work, while you are resting in your home crowded with children.”
It is a practice to counteract our tendency to get caught up with narrow, unhelpful and even unskilful mental states. In that respect it is somewhat like mindfulness of the body or mindfulness of our surroundings. It is a method of filling our minds with positive and uplifting reflections.
We will do it as a meditation and then this afternoon we will have a ritual where you can make an offering which symbolises for you one or more of these recollections – perhaps something that you yourself would like to take forward into your life and practice. This practice doesn’t need to be done in any particular way- you could stick with one of the recollections for days or months or years or cover all six everyday – whatever works for you.You may find that whichever one you choose to reflect on will quite naturally lead you to the others.







Mahanama Sutta: To Mahanama (2)
translated from the Pali by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying among the Sakyans at Kapilavatthu in the Banyan Park. Now at that time Mahanama the Sakyan had recovered from being ill, was not long recovered from his illness. And at that time many monks were at work making robes for the Blessed One, [thinking], "When the robes are finished, at the end of the three months rainy season retreat the Blessed One will set out wandering." Mahanama the Sakyan heard that many monks were at work making robes for the Blessed One, [thinking], "When the robes are finished, at the end of the three months, the Blessed One will set out wandering." So he approached the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One: "I have heard that many monks are at work making robes for the Blessed One, [thinking], 'When the robes are finished, at the end of the three months, the Blessed One will set out wandering.' For those of us with many engagements, how should we live?"

"Excellent, Mahanama, excellent! It is fitting for clansmen like you to approach the Tathagata and ask, For those of us with many engagements, how should we live?"

"One who is aroused to practice is one of conviction, not without conviction. One aroused to practice is one with persistence aroused, not lazy. One aroused to practice is one of established mindfulness, not muddled mindfulness. One aroused to practice is centered in concentration, not uncentered. One aroused to practice is discerning, not undiscerning.
"Established in these five qualities, you should further develop six qualities:
[1] "There is the case where you recollect the Tathagata: 'Indeed, the Blessed One is worthy and rightly self-awakened, consummate in knowledge & conduct, well-gone, an expert with regard to the world, unexcelled as a trainer for those people fit to be tamed, the Teacher of divine & human beings, awakened, blessed.' At any time when a disciple of the noble ones is recollecting the Tathagata, his mind is not overcome with passion, not overcome with aversion, not overcome with delusion. His mind heads straight, based on the Tathagata. And when the mind is headed straight, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal, gains a sense of the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous, the body grows calm. One whose body is calmed experiences ease. In one at ease, the mind becomes concentrated.
"Mahanama, you should develop this recollection of the Buddha while you are walking, while you are standing, while you are sitting, while you are lying down, while you are busy at work, while you are resting in your home crowded with children.
[2] "Furthermore, there is the case where you recollect the Dhamma: 'The Dhamma is well-expounded by the Blessed One, to be seen here & now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the wise for themselves.' At any time when a disciple of the noble ones is recollecting the Dhamma, his mind is not overcome with passion, not overcome with aversion, not overcome with delusion. His mind heads straight, based on the Dhamma. And when the mind is headed straight, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal, gains a sense of the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous, the body grows calm. One whose body is calmed experiences ease. In one at ease, the mind becomes concentrated.
"Mahanama, you should develop this recollection of the Dhamma while you are walking, while you are standing, while you are sitting, while you are lying down, while you are busy at work, while you are resting in your home crowded with children.
[3] "Furthermore, there is the case where you recollect the Sangha: 'The Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples who have practiced well... who have practiced straight-forwardly... who have practiced methodically... who have practiced masterfully — in other words, the four types [of noble disciples] when taken as pairs, the eight when taken as individual types — they are the Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples: worthy of gifts, worthy of hospitality, worthy of offerings, worthy of respect, the incomparable field of merit for the world.' At any time when a disciple of the noble ones is recollecting the Sangha, his mind is not overcome with passion, not overcome with aversion, not overcome with delusion. His mind heads straight, based on the Sangha. And when the mind is headed straight, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal, gains a sense of the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous, the body grows calm. One whose body is calmed experiences ease. In one at ease, the mind becomes concentrated.
"Mahanama, you should develop this recollection of the Sangha while you are walking, while you are standing, while you are sitting, while you are lying down, while you are busy at work, while you are resting in your home crowded with children.
[4] "Furthermore, there is the case where you recollect your own virtues: '[They are] untorn, unbroken, unspotted, unsplattered, liberating, praised by the wise, untarnished, conducive to concentration.' At any time when a disciple of the noble ones is recollecting virtue, his mind is not overcome with passion, not overcome with aversion, not overcome with delusion. His mind heads straight, based on virtue. And when the mind is headed straight, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal, gains a sense of the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous, the body grows calm. One whose body is calmed experiences ease. In one at ease, the mind becomes concentrated.
"Mahanama, you should develop this recollection of virtue while you are walking, while you are standing, while you are sitting, while you are lying down, while you are busy at work, while you are resting in your home crowded with children.
[5] "Furthermore, there is the case where you recollect your own generosity: 'It is a gain, a great gain for me, that — among people overcome with the stain of possessiveness — I live at home, my awareness cleansed of the stain of possessiveness, freely generous, openhanded, delighting in being magnanimous, responsive to requests, delighting in the distribution of alms.' At any time when a disciple of the noble ones is recollecting generosity, his mind is not overcome with passion, not overcome with aversion, not overcome with delusion. His mind heads straight, based on generosity. And when the mind is headed straight, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal, gains a sense of the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous, the body grows calm. One whose body is calmed experiences ease. In one at ease, the mind becomes concentrated.
"Mahanama, you should develop this recollection of generosity while you are walking, while you are standing, while you are sitting, while you are lying down, while you are busy at work, while you are resting in your home crowded with children.
[6] "Furthermore, you should recollect the devas: 'There are the Devas of the Four Great Kings, the Devas of the Thirty-three, the Devas of the Hours, the Contented Devas, the devas who delight in creation, the devas who have power over the creations of others, the devas of Brahma's retinue, the devas beyond them. Whatever conviction they were endowed with that — when falling away from this life — they re-arose there, the same sort of conviction is present in me as well. Whatever virtue they were endowed with that — when falling away from this life — they re-arose there, the same sort of virtue is present in me as well. Whatever learning they were endowed with that — when falling away from this life — they re-arose there, the same sort of learning is present in me as well. Whatever generosity they were endowed with that — when falling away from this life — they re-arose there, the same sort of generosity is present in me as well. Whatever discernment they were endowed with that — when falling away from this life — they re-arose there, the same sort of discernment is present in me as well.' At any time when a disciple of the noble ones is recollecting the conviction, virtue, learning, generosity, and discernment found both in himself and the devas, his mind is not overcome with passion, not overcome with aversion, not overcome with delusion. His mind heads straight, based on the [qualities of the] devas. And when the mind is headed straight, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal, gains a sense of the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous, the body grows calm. One whose body is calmed experiences ease. In one at ease, the mind becomes concentrated.
"Mahanama, you should develop this recollection of the devas while you are walking, while you are standing, while you are sitting, while you are lying down, while you are busy at work, while you are resting in your home crowded with children."
.

More and More of Less and Less


A talk given in Cambridge for Dharma Day 2018

 In the introduction to the Ten Pillars of Buddhism Bhante mentions the principle of ‘more and more of less and less’ in relation to reading about and studying the Dharma. He talks about it in terms of going more deeply into the seemingly basic teachings of Buddhism.

He mentions it as a principle of Triratna and suggests that it’s a principle we should take to heart. A principle is defined as “a fundamental truth or it is a settled rule of action, an attitude which exercises a directing influence in life and behaviour.”

The attitude and action that is being recommended is to return again and again to the same teachings and mine them for deeper meanings. This leads to depth of reflection and depth of understanding. In a way what is being suggested is that when we think we have fully grasped a point of Dharma, then that is when we need to look deeper – we can even ask ourselves ‘what have I not understood?’

So there are two aspects to this principle – this action and attitude which directs our life and behaviour. The two aspects are the ‘more and more’ aspect and the ‘less and less’ aspect. Let’s look into the less and less aspect first. What does it mean?

I think there are two aspects to this as well: it is less and less in terms of the quantity of books we read and talks we listen to and videos we watch and it is less and less in terms of the number of topics we focus on.

To go deeper into any topic we have to, for a time at least, focus on it fairly exclusively and leave other topics to one side. If we are focussed in this way then that will influence our reading and the talks we listen to and so on. So for instance if you wanted to go into the topic of Buddhist ethics quite thoroughly, you might read the Ten Pillars of Buddhism, Living Ethically, Bhante’s article  Aspects of Buddhist Morality and Abhaya’s booklet  Living The Skilful Life, which is on the Five Precepts, and then you might look at the Pali Canon suttas that are referenced by Bhante. Then you might look at what some other Buddhist writers have to say about ethics and perhaps even see what Western philosophers have said – Schopenhauer for instance and maybe look at William Blake’s take on morality. This is just an example, but you get the idea. By focussing on one topic, that gives direction to your explorations and gradually your understanding will deepen and your knowledge will broaden and of course as you go into any one aspect of Buddhism thoroughly you will discover the connections to other aspects of the Buddha’s teaching and will be led on to further investigations.  Of course, this is not just about accumulating knowledge – it’s about reflecting and meditating on what your exploring and, most importantly, applying it to your life.

The other aspect of this idea of ‘less and less’ is to do with the amount of stuff that is available to us. Just fifty years ago there were very few books on Buddhism and few translations of Buddhist scriptures. Now we are awash with books and with the advent of the internet we can find all sorts of talks and teachings and teachers at a click of the mouse.

There are a lot of new Dharma books being published every year. Windhorse Publications, which is a very small publisher probably averages about four books a year and then there are publishers like Wisdom, Shambhala, Dhrama publishing and Buddhist writers like the Dalai Lama, Pema Chodren, Joseph Goldstein – I would guess there are at least a hundred new Buddhist books coming out every year and probably more. Then we can add to that all the new translations and all the stuff on the internet – thousands of articles, audio talks and video talks. Even Free Buddhist Audio is hard to keep up with – There is just so much available and a lot of it is of very high quality. There is all the Triratna stuff – the LBC alone produces a mountain of video teachings every year, then there is Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, Theravadin and each of those have their sub-divisions. You could be happily lost in a world of Buddhist teachings for a long time – but lost is probably the right word, because we need guidance to navigate all that mass of material. We need to have some idea of what it is best to engage with, otherwise we could be in danger of having a completely random Buddhist training.

As Triratna Buddhists we have that guidance. But of course having guidance available and following the guidance are two different things. We can easily ignore guidance. Indeed it is a tendency in our society to feel that we don’t need guidance and that we can find out what we need to know without much assistance. In effect that means that some people decide to be their own Dharma teacher. There is an inherent contradiction in that, but nevertheless it is much more common than we may realise. Even people who attend Buddhism courses to learn about Buddhism can come with the view that they already know. This may seem perverse, but it happens and there are subtle versions of it that we are probably all guilty of. It is very easy for a little knowledge to go to our heads and with the support of our basic egotism we can assume that we know and understand a lot more than we do. This then gets in the way of being receptive to guidance and therefore gets in the way of deepening our understanding.

Triratna Community and Order was born from and built on the teachings of Bhante and it is obvious that our best guidance as to how to engage with the mass of Buddhist teachings now sloshing around the internet and beyond is to ground ourselves thoroughly in Bhante’s teaching. It is unfortunate that many people don’t do this – they may complete the Mitra Study course and assume that that is a thorough grounding in Sangharakshita’s teaching. It  isn’t – it’s an introduction to the Bhante’s work. Even the ordination training course, great as it is, needs to be built on. The way to build on these is to go back to Bhante’s words in his lectures and seminars and go back to the original Pali Canon or Mahayana sutras and keep on returning to the teachings to really get a deep insight into what is being said. We need to become Sangharakshita experts by reading and re-reading his work, listening to his talks and delving into the seminars, which most of us only see in edited form.

By undertaking deeper and more thorough exploration we not only ingest the content of the teaching but also the spirit and the method, which are also very much part of the unique offering of Bhante and Triratna. The talks given by Order members and their books and articles are mainly commentaries on Bhante’s teaching and therefore very helpful in allowing us to see the same topics from different angles and giving us a glimpse of how different people reflect on the Dharma.

So I have been talking about the ‘less and less’ side of the issue of ‘more and more of less and less’. And I am recommending less of a spread of teachers and a focus on particular teachings to enable deeper exploration.

What about the more and more side of the phrase? What does that refer too? In a word it is all about repetition. In order to learn we need to repeat, in order to remember we need to repeat.

If the ‘less and less’ side of this phrase is concerned with less quantity of books, talks and videos and less quantity of topics at any one time, the ‘more and more’ aspect of the principle of ‘more and more of less and less’ is concerned with more quality of attention to what we are engaging with, more quality reflection, more quality time spent with particular teachings and topics. Less quantity and more quality could sum up this principle of ‘more and more of less and less’.

How do we give quality time and attention to a teaching how do we improve the quality of our reflections?
The first thing is to notice what you are interested in. You will only be able to give sufficient time and attention to something you are interested in. No interest no attention. It might even be informative to think about what you don’t give attention to and ask yourself – is it because I am not interested? Sometimes, of course, we don’t know what we are interested in. If you have never heard or read anything about some topic then you are in no position to know whether it interests you or not. Sometimes we don’t look at something because we feel a bit daunted by it. If you find yourself shying away from going into some aspect of the Dharma it may be because you’re not interested or it might be because you feel it is too difficult for you. You can stimulate your interest by hearing what others have to say about something – another person’s enthusiasm can spark off our interest and engagement. For instance I, heard a talk recently in which someone quoted a verse from a Mahayana text called the Ratnagunasamcayagatha and the way they unfolded what the verse meant to them made me really interested to find out more. If you find a text or idea too difficult again you can get a  different perspective on it by listening to how other people think about it.

The next step after interest is reflection. There are many ways to reflect. Ratnaguna has written a book on the topic which many of you will have read. Padmavajra has given a very fine talk on reflection too. I will refer to some of their ideas later. First I just want to share a method I have found useful myself. I happen to like writing and I use writing to reflect – when I write things down I can come back to them and I can see how a train of thought develops. One method is to take a topic – perhaps a short verse and ask a series of questions to help you to go deeper into it.

One set of questions you might find useful are as follows ;

1.   What is being said – put it in your own words
2.   What do I think about it – do I agree or disagree
3.   What is my emotional response? Comfortable, uncomfortable, nothing and why?
4.   Does it have any relevance to my life now?
5.   Consider the opposite- sometimes not easy at all – but gets you to think about something in a fresh way which may open up new insights.

The important thing with asking questions of yourself as way of reflecting is to not settle for superficial answers. Every answer can give rise to another question. Just like a child who asks question after question – you can take yourself deeper into a topic by not settling for a one word answer.

In his book The Art of Reflection, Ratnaguna talks about other ways of reflecting on a topic. For instance he mentions talking to yourself – this is similar to the writing exercise I have outlined above but without the writing – it is basically having a kind of inner question and answer dialogue with each answer giving rise to a new question. He also suggests the possibility of having an argument with yourself – take both sides and argue it out . He gives an example of an ethical dilemma – you have a friend in another country – does the value of friendship mean that you take flights to visit them or do ecological concerns mean that you don’t visit them.
As well as inner dialogue, he mentions reflective writing, reflection while walking and reflecting with another person. I will leave you to read his book or even better re-read it.

Another point Ratnaguna makes is about the importance of giving time and space to reflection. He talks about having periods of doing nothing. This is the kind of reflection where you are not concerned with a particular topic but allowing something to come to the surface from the depths – like a fish coming to the surface of the water. In this kind of reflecting what you are really doing is getting to know yourself and by noticing where your mind goes you get to see what you are really interested in. If you are nourishing your mind with wholesome input then you may experience some of that emerging to be digested more fully. If you are nourishing your mind on rubbish that is quite likely to emerge. Either way you will be discovering or even uncovering something about yourself and that is very helpful and can be a good foundation for more directed reflections on a particular topic.

In Padmavajras talk and booklet on Listening, Reflecting and Meditating he talks about six different ways of reflecting . Some of them have nice poetic titles. He explores how to reflect under the headings:
1.   Circling like a pigeon
2.   Dropping pebbles in a pool
3.   Significant landscape
4.   How to live, what to do
5.   Cutting like a sword
6.   The ever flowing river of contemplation.

I will just say a few words about each of these. If you are interested you can follow it up by getting the booklet from Padmaloka.

Circling like a pigeon means bringing to mind all the associations you can with a particular topic. When I’m preparing a talk I often start with a mind map. I write the topic in the centre of a page and around it I arrange all the thoughts that come to mind, all the associations I have with that particular topic. That’s the starting point for reflections.

The second way of reflecting – dropping pebbles in a pool – is about reflecting when you are concentrated in meditation or after a puja. You just drop into your mind a word or phrase and just repeat the word or phrase slowly letting it sink deeper into your concentrated mind. That will bring it’s own results.

The third way of reflecting – significant landscape – is to do with being aware of the world around us and using it as a source for reflections. A classic example of this is the way the autumn leaves speak to us of change and impermanence.

The fourth kind of reflection is called ‘how to live, what to do’ and this is basically about relating our reflections to our own experience, our own life. This guards against the Dharma becoming an abstraction or a hobby that you add on to the rest of your life. This involves asking yourself questions, as I mentioned already.

The fifth way of reflecting – cutting like a sword – refers to a reflection that analyses and searches into the heart of a subject, cutting away anything that is not essential. For instance in reflecting on impermanence you look into your own experience and keep looking to see whether there is anything that is permanent. You investigate thoroughly the experience of impermanence in your own life and mind. You would do the same with the notion of ‘self’ or ‘I’ or ‘mine’.

The final recommendation of Padmavajra is to develop the ever flowing river of contemplation. He encourages us to develop a reflection practice, perhaps beginning with short periods of five minutes or less and then taking a rest and so on. If you keep this up then eventually reflecting becomes more natural and develops a life of it’s own. This then would be the flowing river of contemplation.

So these are some ways of reflecting and reflecting is a way of developing the more and more side of the principle of more and more of less and less. Quality of engagement over quantity of things engaged with.

As well as interest and reflection, in order to go deeper, we also need encouragement. You can give yourself encouragement by being aware of how much you have learned and how much you have understood. One way of discovering what you know is trying to explain it to others. It’s important to find and take opportunities that demand that you explain things to others. It could be supporting a newcomers class, where you might be asked why you are a Buddhist or what enlightenment means to you. Often we don’t know what we know until we have to explain it and often we can be surprised by just how much we have learned and how much we understand. It could be a study group or some situation in which you have to give a little talk. All these kind of situations can draw something out of you and help you to reflect. They can also be encouraging. Just talking with a friend and sharing your understandings can be encouraging and fruitful.
So by being interested, or discovering what interests you, by reflecting and by finding ways to encourage yourself you will go deeper you will deepen your understanding of yourself and your understanding of the Dharma. This is what is meant by more and more of less and less.

In Triratna we have a very large body of teachings from Sangharakshita and there are probably only a handful of people who have engaged with all of those teachings. Perhaps it is too much for any of us to read every book and every seminar and listen to every talk. Fortunately we can get a very good, in depth, understanding of the whole scope of Bhante’s teachings by reading one or two books again and again.
For example:
Subhuti’s book – Sangharakshita: a new Voice in the Buddhist Tradition is an excellent overview and a good source of references.
Or there is The Essential Sangharakshita published by Wisdom
Or there is the series Living with Kindness, Living with Awareness, Living Ethically and Living Wisely – those four together are a very comprehensive entrance into Bhante’s teachings too.

What ever way you approach it or whatever books you read I think it is really crucially important that anyone who wishes to practice within the Triratna tradition is thoroughly and continually deepening their understanding of Bhante’s teachings and his whole approach to the Dharma, as systematically as possible.

The Mitra Study course is very good in this respect but is not sufficient in itself. It needs to be reinforced by further study and reflection and retreats.

I have been in our Order for thirty years now and was involved with Triratna for four years before that and in those thirty four years I have read and studied much of Bhante’s teachings but not all. And I have returned again and again to some of his books and in returning I have always found something to give me food for thought. Indeed it is often when you think you know something thoroughly that a return visit highlights what you’ve forgotten or what you never noticed in the first palce.

So I am recommending as strongly as I can that you become an expert on Bhante’s teachings as part of your Dharma life within Triratna and I am also recommending that you take up the principle of ‘more and more of less and less’ or in other words more quality of reflection and less quantity of teachers and teachings. I hope you find this a fruitful way forward with deepening your understanding of the Dharma and increasing your self-knowledge.