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Lay Buddhist Practice by Bhikkhu Khantipalo

The Five Precepts (Pancasila) [See Appendix A3 for Pali]

These are the words of the Buddha from the Dhammapada:

     Whoever destroys living beings,
     speaks false words, who in the world
     takes that which is not given to him,
     or goes too with another's wife,
     or takes distilled, fermented drinks --
     whatever man indulges thus
     extirpates the roots of himself
     even here in this very world.

                        (Dhp. 246-7)

So these actions are to be avoided if one wishes to be not only human in body but also to have a human mind. And birth as a human being depends to a great extent upon the practice of the Five Precepts which are also called "the Dhamma for human beings" (manussa-dhamma). The practice of these precepts makes this human world bearable, but when such practice declines then it becomes a place of suffering and distress. [*]

* [See "The Five Precepts," Wheel 55, BPS, Kandy, for the precepts explained, also the excellent article, "sila in Modern Life" in "The Buddhist Outlook" by Francis Story, BPS.]

Therefore, it is a practice among Buddhists to bring to mind every day the Five Precepts while sitting with hands in anjali in front of the shrine. At that time one should resolve as strongly as possible to practice them and not to depart from them. They may be recited in translation as follows:

     I undertake the rule of training to refrain
                from killing living creatures.
     I undertake the rule of training to refrain
                from taking what is not given.
     I undertake the rule of training to refrain
                from wrong conduct in sexual pleasures.
     I undertake the rule of training to refrain
                from false speech.
     I undertake the rule of training to refrain
                from distilled and fermented intoxicants which are the
                occasion for carelessness.

These precepts are the basic and minimal observance of moral conduct by a Buddhist. They are designed to restrain him from making bad kamma in speech and body and to serve as the basis for further growth in the Dhamma. If a Buddhist wishes to meditate, for instance, he must be trying to practice the Five Precepts. Meditation trains the mind away from unwholesome states but how could this be done if body and speech were uncontrolled? In connection with precepts and meditation, it may be said again that all kinds of drugs should be given up before trying meditation. They confuse the mind, or merely alter it temporarily -- and so fall under the fifth precept -- while meditation is the step by step purification of it.

Now that the Going-for-Refuge and the Five precepts have been recited, it is time to recollect the virtues of the three things most precious to a Buddhist in the world.

The Recollection of the Three Treasures [See Appendix A5 for Pali]

The Treasures (ratana) of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha are not excelled by any other sort of treasure, for these treasures have the nature of Enlightenment and are beyond the realm of arising and passing away. So that we appreciate well the value of these Three Treasures, this translation of the passages recollecting their virtues should be recited every day.

Recollection of the Virtues of the Buddha

Indeed the Exalted One is thus: The accomplished destroyer of defilements, a Buddha perfected by himself, complete in clear knowledge and compassionate conduct, supremely good in presence and in destiny, the Knower of the worlds, incomparable Master of men to be tamed, the Teacher of celestials and men, the Awakened and Awakener, and the Lord by skill-in-means apportioning Dhamma.

Recollection of the Virtues of the Dhamma

The Dhamma of the Exalted One is well-expounded, to be seen here and now, not delayed in time, inviting one to come and see, leading inwards, and to be known each wise man for himself.

Recollection of the Virtues of the Sangha

The Sangha of the Exalted One's disciples who have practiced well, the Sangha of the Exalted One's disciples who have practiced straightly, the Sangha of the Exalted One's disciples who have practiced rightly, the Sangha of the Exalted One's disciples who have practiced properly -- that is to say, the four pairs of men, the eight types of persons -- that is the Sangha of the Exalted One's disciples, worthy of gifts, worthy of hospitality, worthy of offerings, who should be respected, the incomparable field of punna for the world.

The advantage in making these recollections, even in a brief form chanted once or twice a day, is a gradually increasing appreciation of the Three Treasures. It is like a precious balm contained in an unglazed vessel -- gradually the whole of the vessel is pervaded by the sweetness of its contents.

Affirmation of Refuge in the Three Treasures [See Appendix A6 for the Pali]

Before going on to chant other recollections these three traditional verses from Sri Lanka can be chanted to make one's mind firm in the Refuges. It is easy for the distracted and weak mind to take refuge in the impermanent and unstable things of this world while neglecting the true Refuge which is like an incomparably brilliant diamond of adamantine quality in one's own practice of Dhamma. To put aside other refuges, dogmatic and materialistic, one recites:

     For me there is no other refuge,
     the Buddha truly is my Refuge --
     by speaking of this truth
     may I grow in the Master's Way.

     For me there is no other refuge,
     the Dhamma truly is my Refuge --
     by speaking of this truth
     may I grow in the Master's Way.

     For me there is no other refuge.
     the Sangha truly is my Refuge --
     by the speaking of this truth
     may I grow in the Master's Way.

The mind which is established in the three Refuges does not suffer from doubt and wavering; there are no thoughts as, "Was the Buddha really enlightened?" and so on. When the mind has firm confidence in the Three Treasures then it is not disturbed by skepticism (vicikiccha), a hindrance to the experience of deep meditation.

The Five Subjects for Daily Recollection [See Appendix A7 for the Pali]

("by woman or man, householder or monk")

There are other recollections which one can make and which help one to appreciate the state of a human being. People tend to hide away from decay, disease and death while greatly attached to sentient beings and insentient objects. Some people try also to ignore moral responsibility for their actions. The recollections below bring all these subjects out into the light and make us face them squarely. Therefore, the Buddha has said that they should be recollected by everyone daily.

     1. I am of the nature to decay
        I have not got beyond decay
     2. I am of the nature to be diseased
        I have not got beyond disease
     3. I am of the nature to die
        I have not got beyond death
     4. All that is mine, beloved and pleasing, will change and vanish
     5. I am the owner of my kamma
        heir to my kamma
        born of my kamma
        related to my kamma
        abide supported by my kamma
        whatever kamma I shall do, whether good or
        evil, of that I shall be the heir

This recollection is specially good for arousing mentally vigorous states and for getting rid of laziness and drowsiness. Repeated every day, these recollections make one value this life so that one makes the best use of it.

The Development of Loving-Kindness [See appendix A8 for the Pali]

Another practice which is beneficial, as it counteracts states of mind rooted in aversion (dosa) is metta bhavana, widely practiced by people in Buddhist countries. The advantages are many, ranging from an increase in personal happiness, through such social benefits as having many good friends, to ease of meditation practice, dying unconfused and at least gaining a good rebirth. So as part of one's daily practice one should recite this traditional passage used in all the Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia.

     May I have no enmity
     may I have no hurtfulness
     may I have no troubles of mind and body
     may I be able to protect my own happiness
     Whatever beings there are -- may they have no enmity
     whatever beings there are -- may they have no hurtfulness
     whatever beings there are -- may they have no troubles of mind and body
     whatever beings there are -- may they be able to protect their own

While chanting both these recollections one should not be too hurried. Take time over them and pause for reflection after each phrase has been chanted. In this way one prepares the mind for the next part of one's practice.


When the last reflection has been finished, one should change from kneeling seated on the heels to a cross-legged posture, whichever one is most suitable. Those who find it difficult to get their knees anywhere near the floor may find it useful to sit in the way illustrated, with a small hard cushion (or folded blanket) 3-6 inches thick under the buttocks. One should also sit on a reasonably soft surface, and a square of folded rug, soft carpet, etc., underneath one will make for the greater comfort of the knees.

When seated ready to meditate, one's body should be upright, and yet relaxed. Carefully notice any physical strain and try to correct it. Also one must ensure that the body is balanced and comfortable before meditating -- this can be done by moving the body around while seated -- for once started the body should not be moved. Clothes should be not moved. Clothes should be loose and not constricting in any way.

Of all the sitting positions, the lotus posture is the best and firmest. But not so many people are able to get their legs into this position without a good deal of practice; so the half- lotus posture may be tried as it also makes the body firm. Other people find the lion posture better, or where none of these can be done, just sit in the ordinary cross-legged way -- but the back must be straight. [*] If it is found difficult to keep the back straight (and drowsiness and sleep are the results of sitting hunched up), then put a cushion in the small-of the back and sit against a wall. This will help to straighten the back while it gives support to anyone who has a weak back. When all of these ways of sitting are impossible a chair may be used, although it is difficult to feel really firm on a chair.

* [The lotus posture is made by placing the feet, soles up, on the opposite thighs. In the half-lotus one foot is on the opposite thigh, the other under the opposite upper leg. In the lion posture, one lower leg lies over the other, the foot on the knee, or slightly behind it.]

When the legs are stiff, it will be useful to try loosening the three joints of ankle, knee and thigh with these exercises: While standing, raise one leg keeping it straight, a foot off the floor. Support the body by grasping hold of something firm with the hand on the other side of the body. Revolve the foot from the ankle in the widest possible circle while keeping the rest of the leg still. Turn the foot a number of times both clockwise and anticlockwise. Then raise the top part of the leg until it is parallel with the ground and swing the lower leg in as wide a circle as possible from the knee. Do not move the upper leg. Reverse direction of swing and repeat several times. Then straighten the leg and swing it, keeping it straight, from the thigh in the largest possible circle, in both directions. Repeat these three exercises from the other leg. The whole procedure may be done two or three times a day but do not overdo it to begin with -- the result will be a lot of aching joints! After a month or two, the joints will have become more flexible and the leg muscles more relaxed. It should then be quite easy to adopt one of these cross-legged postures for a long period of time. So much for the body.

Having quietened the body and resolved not to move it while meditating, what about the mind? Most people find that it moves much too fast for their mindfulness to catch. Usually, what is called "mind" means the present time consisting of:

   Eye-             Ear-        Nose-       Tongue-     Body (touch)-
   consciousness    consc.      consc.      consc.       consc.
     |                   |         |            |           |
   Past(memory) --- Mind-consciousness-element -- (hopes,fears) Future
                              Mind - element
              Dhamma (mental-emotional experiences)-element
              |                       |                   |
     Wholesome mental states          |     Neutral mental states
                        Unwholesome mental states

So a "mind" may be concerned with any one of the five sense consciousness, or it may be mind-consciousness-element having as object something from the past, present or the future, or again it can be the dhamma-element consisting of the three species of mental states. It will not be mind-element, which is the passive state of mind operating in deep sleep. Now a mind, or rather a mind operating in deep sleep. Now a mind, or rather a succession of "minds," which is concerned with such highly differentiated data cannot become very concentrated. Even when "minds" are not concerned with outer sensual stimulation and only with inward reflection, they will still be discursive with words, concepts, pictures and feelings, etc. In the state of meditation we try to cut out even these inward disturbances by fixing the mind upon one subject which is not discursive. This will conduce to our "minds" being only wholesome states (kusaladhamma) which tend towards concentration and peacefulness. The mental stream of "minds" concerned with many unwholesome states (akusaladhamma -- often fed by sense-stimulation), defiled by being rooted in greed, aversion and delusion (lobha, dosa, moha), are unconcentrated. Defilements lead to mental troubles, among them distraction, dullness, boredom, drowsiness, lust, attachment and aversion. But the absence of defilements means the growth of strong wholesome states and hence of increases clarity and concentration.

So when one has sat down already and made one's body comfortable, then reflect a little: This is not the time to think about the past or the future. Even thoughts about the present must be put down now. This is the time to quieten and concentrate the mind. To follow the Way of Lord Buddha to make the mind firm and unshakable. Now I shall only observe my meditation subject ... Breathe in ... out ... in ...

Two subjects in particular are suitable for a Buddhist who has no direct contact with a meditation teacher. One is mindfulness of breathing, the other the development of loving- kindness. There are many other subjects but these two are the most widely used and can usually be employed (given due care) without a meditation teacher's guidance. Here, each one will be treated briefly, as there are other books in which they are dealt with in greater detail.

Mindfulness of breathing [*] was, by tradition, the subject used by Gotama in his efforts to attain Enlightenment. It is most suitable for promoting calm and concentrated states and so for quelling the distracted mind. It is taught in a number of different ways but in all of them the meditator must first find one point in the breathing process where the breath can be watched. Concentration upon the breath entering and leaving the nostrils, or upon the upper lip, is good for encouraging clear and concentrated mental states, except for people who experience some tension in the head, of for those who find this subject too subtle. For both types of persons, or for people when affected in these ways, to concentrate upon the rising and falling of the diaphragm is beneficial. When one has sat down and begun meditation it is advisable not to change one's subject (except in case of fear or some other strong defilement, see below) but from time to time as the quality of meditation practice changes, for better or worse according to circumstances, the point of concentration or even the subject may be changed as it becomes necessary.

* [For this in greater detail, see: "The Path of Purification," Ch. VIII, para 145ff, and "Mindfulness of Breathing," both translated by Venerable Nanamoli Thera (from BPS, Kandy).]

One should view the meditation subject as a medicine to cure the diseases of the mind (distraction, drowsiness, and so on), and as the symptoms of those diseases change, so the subject of one's meditation can be changed. For instance a person practicing with mindfulness of breathing may find that he is being disturbed by angry thoughts: it may become necessary then for the control of such thoughts to switch to the meditation on loving-kindness. However, before changing the subject of meditation, it is very helpful to get the advice of someone who is well-established in meditation practice.

Having fixed upon one point for watching the breath, keep the mind there. You can judge for yourself how successful you are by what happens after this. If the mind is continuously just fixed on "breathing-in-out" with no other sense-objects, not even of other parts of the body, and no discursive thought, then one is doing well, for meditation is fine and calm. If you do perceive other sense-objects, for instance, loud or soft noises from outside, but your mind is not shaken from the concentration, on breathing-in-out, merely having awareness of them which returns immediately to the breathing when they cease, without discursive thought, concentration is good. If the mind is mostly fixed on breathing-in-out but also strays to body (touch) consciousness elsewhere round the body but still without discursive thoughts, then it is not so bad. But if one's breathing-in-out-mind is frequently disturbed by other mental states consisting of ideas, pictures, etc., then there is still a lot of work to do. Even if one's meditation is up to the first standard, there is no need for complacency as there is plenty more to do. The more advanced aspects of meditation do require guidance and one should make every effort to get in contact with a reliable source of teaching.

The time that one gives to meditation must depend upon the individual although less than 15-20 minutes is of little benefit unless the mind is very well concentrated. Also, it is a good discipline to resolve to practice every day and at the same time (in so far as outside circumstances like work allow). One should not practice on some days but not on others. This shows a wavering mind and cannot accomplish much. And when one has determined to meditate every day one should also resolve to practice for the same length of time each day, not one day twenty and next only five minutes. If one's practice is not regular then this shows weakness of the mind and such a mind is good at suggesting "Today it is too hot," "Today I am too tired..." and a thousand and one other excuses. The best time for meditation is early morning when everything is quiet and while the mind and body are rested. If one meditates once a day then this is the best time to do it. Some people like to meditate twice and do some practice also in the evening. However personal experience will soon make it clear that while hunger is not conducive to meditation, neither is a full stomach. Tiredness may also be a limiting factor in the evening.


Dhamma Essay:
Two Faces of the Dhamma by Bhikkhu Bodhi

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