"Don't Just Do Something, Sit There!
Teachings of the Buddha"
August 14, 2011
Rev. Arthur G. Severance

             Nan-in, A Japanese master at the turn of the 20th century, received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

            Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.  The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. "It is overfull," he exclaimed, “No more will go in."

            "Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

            It is said that Buddha’s greatest sermon used no words at all; he simply held up a flower. Not everyone understood, of course, but if we stop and think, or better yet, if we don’t stop and think, but feel deeply, perhaps that sermon can still be helpful. Another Zen story that might help us understand the flower in relation to the Bible and the teachings of Jesus.

            A university student while visiting Gasaan asked him if he had ever read the Christian Bible.

            "No, read it to me," said Gasan.

            The student opened the Bible and read from St. Matthew: “And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that even Solomon is all his glory was not arrayed like one of these? Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take care of itself."

            Gasan said, "Whoever uttered these words I consider an enlightened man."

            The student continued reading, "Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened for you. For everyone that seeketh, recieveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened."

            Gasan remarked: "That is excellent. Whoever said that is not far from Buddhahood."

            All religions must contain wisdom and meaning else they would not have survived.  These are Zen stories from the book, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, edited by Paul Reps. Zen is a kind of Buddhism from China, brought by Buddhist missionaries in the sixth century from India, then went to Japan. Zen has been described as "A special teaching without scriptures, beyond words and letters, pointing to the mind-essence of humanity, seeking directly into one's nature, attaining enlightenment, Zen is not a sect, but an experience." (Reps) Zen is famous for its Koans or riddles that are designed to awaken your mind.

            And a third story relates to the topic last week about death, but does it in a playful way, which is also  very Buddhist...  Ikkyu, the Zen Master, was very clever even as a child. His teacher had a precious teacup, a rare antique. Ikkyu happened to break this cup and was greatly perplexed. Hearing the footsteps of his teacher, he held the pieces behind his back. When the nastier appeared, Ikkyu asked: "Why do people have to die?"  "This is natural," explained the older man, "Everything has to die and has just so long to live."  Ikkyu, producing the shattered cup: "It was time for your cup to die."

            It is not possible to share all the teachings of Buddha in one 20 minute sermon, of course, and I don’t want this to be a comparative religion course. I want to share some of the teachings that I feel are relevant to today, and indeed especially to congress in how we spend our money and who we help. One of the books that most influenced my spiritual path to UUism was by the great German writer, Herman Hesse, and his book, “Siddartha,” which was the name of the Buddha, Siddartha Gotama. Notice I said it influenced my UUism, it did NOT make me a Buddhist, and that’s one of the main teachings. To paraphrase- “Find your own answer; it’s already within you!” Or maybe the simple “know thyself.” But don’t become a navel gazer, we must also develop compassion for others.

            Like most religions, Buddhism is more like a continuum of religions loosely based on the teachings of Buddha, who was born between 486 and 483 BCE, in what is now Nepal.  Buddha means "awakened one" or "the enlightened one."

            Buddhist practice is becoming more and more popular in this country as well as UUism, perhaps because one of the essentials of Buddhism is to discover for oneself what truth is, that we are all Buddhas. It centers on meditation balanced with living an ethical life without a need for a supernatural God figure.

            Jean Meir, a member of the Princeton UU Church is also a member of the UU Buddhist Group writes: “...practice means meditation. However, meditation is only one component of Buddhist practice. Buddhist practice rests on developing in ourselves the Four Immeasurables: Loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity or the altruistic wish for the happiness of another, the wish to take away the suffering of another, joy over the well-being or joy of another, and peaceful detachment. I heard one Buddhist scholar explain the altruism behind Buddhism this way. We each think we are the center of the universe. As we struggle to attain our own happiness (often at the expense of others), we are thwarted by others who are doing the same thing. However, if we forget about ourselves, recognize that we are all interconnected, and strive for the happiness of others, we will attain happiness.”

            Shantideva, another Buddhist wrote: "The source of all misery in the world lies in thinking of oneself; the source of all happiness lies in thinking of others."

            Instead of the 10 Commandments, Buddhism has the 10 Precepts, considered a condensed form of Buddhist ethical practice. They are different from the 10 Commandments in two ways; “First, they are to be taken as recommendations, not commandments. This means the individual is encouraged to use his/her own intelligence to apply these rules in the best possible way. Second, it is the spirit of the precepts -not the text- that counts, hence, the guidelines for ethical conduct must be seen in the larger context of the Eightfold Path.

            The first five precepts are mandatory for every Buddhist, although the fifth precept is often not observed, because it bans the consumption of alcohol. Precepts no. six to ten are laid out for those in preparation for monastic life and for devoted lay people unattached to families. The eight precepts put together number eight and nine and omit the tenth. Lay people may observe the eight precepts on Buddhist festival days. Ordained Theravada monks undertake no less than 227 precepts, which are not listed here.

I undertake to observe the precept to abstain from ...

  1. harming living beings.

  2. taking things not freely given.

  3. sexual misconduct.

  4. false speech.

  5. intoxicating drinks and drugs causing heedlessness.

  6. taking untimely meals.

  7. dancing, singing, music and watching grotesque mime.

  8. use of garlands, perfumes and personal adornment.

  9. use of high seats.

  10. accepting gold or silver.”

(adapted from The Word of the Buddha, Niyamatolika, The Buddhist Publication Society, 1971, p xii)

            One sees different interpretations of these because translation from original ancient languages as well the individual translator’s interpretation of meaning makes it difficult to get the exact wording that all agree on, but basically there is no such think as Buddhist orthodoxy, really, so one is expected to interpret for one self, or to follow a teacher’s interpretation.

  1. Do not kill but always be mindful of the host of living beings.

  2. Do not be lascivious or think depraved thoughts.

  3. Do not steal or receive unrighteous wealth.

  4. Do not cheat or misrepresent good and evil.

  5. Do not get intoxicated but always think of pure conduct.

  6. I will maintain harmony with my ancestors and family and never disregard my kin.

  7. When I see someone do a good deed, I will support him with joy and delight.

  8. When I see someone unfortunate, I will support him with dignity to recover good fortune.

  9. When someone comes to do me harm, I will not harbor thoughts of revenge.

  10. 1As long as all beings have not attained the Tao, I will not expect to do so myself.

The Second Paramita (Buddhist Precepts)

By. Robert Aitken Roshi

            “Shila is the mnemonic listing of precepts, and by extension it is Vinaya, the moral way. Vinaya is the first of the "Three Baskets" or Tripitaka, the Buddhist canon, the others being Sutra and Abhidharma, the teachings and the commentaries. Formally becoming a Buddhist is a matter of accepting the precepts in the ceremony called Jukai. To understand how morality and Buddhism go together, it is probably best to review the Buddhist teaching itself briefly: “The basic teaching of the Buddha is that there is no abiding self.  Our being is made up of and constantly depends upon other people, animals, plants, soil, water, air, the planet earth, the other planets, the sun, moon and stars. Our very genes are programmes provided to us by our ancestors and from unknown sources back to the earliest green slime and before. Nothing is my own and everything makes me up: my parents, grandparents - the birdsong, portraits by Rembrandt, the scent of the Puakenikeni, and the laughter of a friend.  Also forming my being are death in the family, the danger of biological holocaust, misunderstandings, and malicious gossip.

            This formation that is me, flowing along, eating and adapting and adopting, is the same formation that is you, with very small variations in our combination of genes and experience that give us our uniqueness. This uniqueness is our own personal potential, and we depend upon each other for sustenance to fulfill it.

            Each centre in our multi-centred universe is dependent in this way.  Nothing abides and we find that everything is fundamentally insubstantial -- shunyata, emptiness. It is not a vacuum that we perceive, but the absence of a fixed self in ourselves and in the multitudinous things of the universe. With this perception, or with an understanding that such an experience is possible, we glimpse the Dharma: the peace of the fathomless void and the harmony of the many centres as they flow about and through each other - out there and as this 'me'.”

The Ten Precepts

  1. I take up the way of not killing.

  2. I take up the way of not stealing.

  3. I take up the way of not misusing sex.

  4. I take up the way of not speaking falsely.

  5. I take up the way of not using drink or drugs.

  6. I take up the way of not discussing faults of others.

  7. I take up the way of not praising myself while abusing others.

  8. I take up the way of not sparing the Dharma assets.

  9. I take up the way of not indulging in anger.

  10. I take up the way of not slandering the Three Treasures.

            “Taking refuge in the Three Jewels or Treasures is generally considered to make one officially a Buddhist. Thus, in many  Buddhist communities, the following chant, is often recited by both monks and lay people”:

I take refuge in the Buddha, wishing for all sentient beings to understand the great Way profoundly and make the greatest resolve.
I take refuge in the Dharma, wishing for all sentient beings to delve deeply into the Sutra Pitaka, causing their wisdom to be as broad as the sea.
I take refuge in the Sangha, wishing all sentient beings to lead the congregation in harmony, entirely without obstruction.

            Notice here that the Sangha is the congregation or monastic order, or beloved community; what if one of our main missions was to take refuge in the congregation; what would that mean for us behaviorally?

            The following is an excerpt on Avoiding the Ten Evils from Paul Carnes' Buddha, The Gospel (1894): The Buddha said: "All acts of living creatures become bad by ten things, and by avoiding the ten things they become good. There are three evils of the body, four evils of the tongue, and three evils of the mind.  "The evils of the body are, murder, theft, and adultery; of the tongue, lying, slander, abuse, and idle talk; of the mind, covetousness, hatred, and error.

            Are they not practical, relevant and more important than ever today?

  The Four Noble Truths

              All  existence is suffering.
              Suffering is caused by desire.
              The extinction of desire leads to the extinction of suffering.
              The way to the extinction of suffering is the Eightfold Noble Path.

The Noble Eightfold Path
Wisdom
1. Right View
2. Right Intention
 Ethical Conduct
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
Mental Development
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration

            One does not simply “sum up” Buddhism, nor was that my intent. I am continually inspired by various Buddhist writers and wanted to share that inspiration; no true Buddhist would ever brag about being one and indeed even the great Dalai Lama is a paragon of humility. I find myself struggling with what I consider universal ethics and spiritual wisdom, and find myself often coming up short. I am always searching yet so often seem to get lost, become full of my own ego, and not responsive enough to other’s needs. I wrestle with my selfishness and often lose.

            One suggestion was this quote of The Five Precepts; "Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals.  I will practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need.  I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth."

            Let us live as if there were no God, and it was up to us to save the world and love one another. Let us live in religious relationship with each other and the world. Let us take refuge in each other’s cocreation of the beloved community we call this congregation and the wider movement.

 Peace

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2007-2011
Rev Arthur G Severance
This Work is Licensed Under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United State License
Last Modified:
08/18/11