The Fall Study Session at Pine Gate on Thursday September 4, 2014 begins with a Recitation Ceremony of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Where did they come from? They had to come from somewhere. There are three major causes and conditions that permitted their emergence. The first is the awakened mind of the Buddha; the second is the great skill of the Buddha as a teacher; the third is Thich Nhat Hanh’s insightful rewording of the Five Wonderful Precepts of the Buddha. In a language that would appeal to the consciousness of the 21st century, the Buddha’s mindfulness trainings were renewed, in tune with modern historical, socio-economic and cultural developments. So when we study and penetrate deeply into the mindfulness trainings we touch all three conditions, in particular the awakened mind of the Buddha. At the same time we also touch our potential to be similarly awakened.
With the Five Mindfulness Trainings the Buddha communicated in a very precise way the ethical and moral basis of practice; of how to be with ourselves, with others and with the planet and society at large. To be in touch with the Buddha’s awakened mind enables us to take refuge in the Three Jewels – the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha – in a very deep way, so that something deep and very wholesome stirs in our hearts.
Taking refuge allows us to transport our everyday reality with its disasters, joys, ups and downs, into the loving embrace of teachers such as the Buddha and Jesus. Their teachings provide instruments for practitioners to travel from the Historical dimension of daily life and be refreshed by touching deeply the Ultimate dimension of the awakened mind of the Buddha and other fully enlightened beings.
Taking refuge in the Dharma, practices, sutras and trainings brings to mind the pivotal exchange between Ananda and the Buddha. As the Buddha was preparing for his bodily death his faithful attendant Ananda put a number of questions to the Buddha on behalf of the monastic community. The Buddha had repeatedly encouraged his disciples not to take refuge in the person of the Buddha, but in the island of mindfulness within the self where the diligent practice of the mindfulness trainings would reveal their Buddha nature. Still Ananda had to ask: “Who will our teacher be when you are gone?” to which the Buddha replied “The Mindfulness Trainings,” adding “They are your teacher even while I am alive.”
Taking refuge in the Sangha brings the Buddha and the Dharma to life. Without the Sangha, the Buddha and Dharma cannot evolve to be relevant to the suffering of our times, which is quite different from the times of the Buddha. In the latter part of his ministry the Buddha took great care to reconstitute himself in terms of the sangha, so that if you wanted to truly touch the Buddha and Dharma you had to do so in the Sangha. Thich Nhat Hanh has repeatedly referred to sangha building as the noblest profession in the 21st century.
I am convinced more than ever before that the world needs a universal code of ethics. The Five Mindfulness Trainings fill this void. For me they are a guide and protector in moments of doubt, so that I see clearly and can take care of my own internal garbage. This is the only way to deal with the potential terrorist that lurks deep within everyone’s consciousness. To unravel the insidious internal knots caused by generations of ancestral habits, created from ignorance, vengeance and separation – this is the work of the new revolutionary of the 21st century, transforming terror and violence first within themselves and then within the world. It is not a political or intellectual exercise, nor a matter of compromised treaties or ceasefires. It is an internal transformation of consciousness at the very core of our being. It takes mindfulness to do this and the Five Mindfulness Trainings provide the starting gate, a guidance system and a deep well of internal ethics to live by. This is why I do my very best to live by these trainings.