The question has sometimes been raised as to whether monastics should be involved in political or social issues. Here. Ven. Bodhi provides a perfect template for a presentation of a Buddhist monastic that weaves in the Dhamma, information about the Buddha for those that may not be familiar, and a serious and detailed discussion of a current critical political and global social issue.
He’s broken the mold in a number of ways ( see [https://www.buddhistglobalrelief.org] ) and sets a great example of advocacy that derives from the Dhamma and addresses issues of immediate concern.
Compassion must always be kept in perspective. When the Buddha saw old age, sickness and death in the street, he did not seek to physically alleviate the suffering, regarding the achievement of enlightenment as the superior form of compassion.
“after gaining his first two knowledges on the night of awakening, the Buddha decided that the best use of what he had learned was to turn inward to find the causes of saṁsāra in his own heart and mind, and to escape from kamma entirely by training his mind. These are also the reasons why, when he taught others how to solve the problem of suffering, he focused primarily on the internal causes of suffering, and only secondarily on the external ones.”—Thanissaro
Yes… and yet when the Buddha with Ananda encountered a sick & soiled bhikkhu, apparently abandoned by other bhikkhus, He did two things: with Ananda, He himself moved and cleaned up and got medicine for the ill bhikkhu; and He taught the Sangha that its members should take care of each other.
If the essence of the Holy Life is good friendship, it seems that there are practical responsibilities or compassionate action for those impeded from practice for all on the Path - even a Buddha!
In SN 47.10, a class of nuns are practicing the four foundation of mindfulness and realizing grand successive distinctions. One of those grand distinctions may well have been the understanding that the brahma-viharas and insight are two separate practices. The name ‘brahma-vihara’ itself indicates the limitation of the practice of compassion etc. to the brahma realm.
“I tell you, monks, awareness-release through compassion has the sphere of the infinitude of space as its excellence — in the case of one who has penetrated to no higher release.”—SN 46.54
A practitioner who is temperamentally suited to brahma-vihara practice should take it up by all means, being aware that it cannot lead to final release. Bikkhu Bodhi at this stage of his life is involved in works of compassion for reasons of age, environment and temperament. He would no longer have the concentration required for translation, so has taken up a less mentally demanding practice. He has never been a meditation monk, and has always been involved in outward-going activities.
The Satipatthana sutta central to insight practice, makes no mention of the brahma-viharas.
Bhikkhu Bodhi doesn’t lead hard-core meditation retreats, and doesn’t sell himself as a meditation guru. However, from the comments in his numerous talks available on line, it’s clear that he has done quite a lot of meditation. There is some very useful practice advice scattered around those talks. He sometimes talks about the difficulties that he has had due to headaches. In the talk “Working with Pain”, he describes various strategies that he has developed over the decades: https://www.audiodharma.org/teacher/19/
So… is brahma-vihara practice considered suitable for retirement, or for those with lesser capabilities, or only for those tempermentally suited? which was the Buddha, or is the story considered apocryphal?
"Compassion must always be kept in perspective " may be a strong statement, but it naturally turns on its head, for me; perhaps it is my non-sutta-scholar’s life which leads me to think, I don’t think it has to be kept, it is, it persists as part of the perspective which leads to liberation, until final extinguishment.
This is totally not based in reality. We really should be careful with our words when we don’t know what we are talking about, especially concerning living people. Less than two years ago he published a complete translation of the sutta Nipata and it’s commentary and he continues to work on similar projects. He has always been a meditation monk. He just doesn’t lead meditation retreats or promote his own personal theories of meditation.
I stand by what I have said. I knew a little of Bikkhu Bodhi when he lived in Sri Lanka in the 90’s and these are my considered opinions. Impermanence comes as a shock when it impinges on perceived continuity, that is the lesson in this.
There are suttas when the Buddha speaks about his past lives, the Buddha has always been a master of his field. In one past life he was the master of wheels, by investing and sacrificing his entire life to a speciality he becomes a master and is able to discern the tiniest of differences and details, and in that specific life, regarding wheels. He could desire to make a wheel roll on for a very long time or a short time (aka Quality) depending on his willingness to exert effort on the wheels (aka meditation subject).
Therefore, the more we let the 3 poisons distract us (improper attention) from our meditation subject (nibbana) the more we dillute and waste our short lifespan’s potential.
Unless you’ve attained the final goal, it’s best to not let your attention stray into other subjects of attention. Your short human lifespan will not allow you to be a master of multiple things, so pick one subject and sacrifice your life to it.
Better to be a master of one rather a novice of many. Mastery only means one thing: quality. Quality over quantity.
As for climate change, if I wanted to determine myself to that subject, I would be debating professionals on a scientific forum, not on a Buddhist forum, but I have recognized that the dhamma is a vastly superior subject. So to discuss climate change on here would be like to ask for a Big Mac burger at the world’s highest quality restaurant, and totally miss my window of opportunity to taste something rare, divine and supermundane, instead for something common, low quality and cheap.
Absolutely, however, topics such as these which bring to our attention the fragility of our world is powerful fuel for practice. Still, best to then use that fuel instead of focusing on where you got it from.
But he also spent his entire lifespan after enlightenment tirelessly teaching people from all parts of society, setting up the longest continuously surviving religious institution on earth (just to help people). So clearly, compassion does not equal inaction. The Buddha clearly used his abilities to help living beings in a big way.
I can’t help but imagine a parody affluent Buddhist shouting to starving children “don’t you know suffering comes from internal, not external, causes?” while driving his BMW to attend a luxury meditation retreat.
The ideal for monastics is surely to live in seclusion in the wilderness or in forest monasteries, but if some monks for some reason can’t live up to that ideal, feeding under-nourished children isn’t the worst outcome IMO.
It’s possible to reply that the Karaniya Metta sutta makes no mention of vipassana practice.
However insight practice and brahma-vihara practice are often considered complementary and mutually supporting. … Certainly this is the way things have played out in my own (admittedly often inadequate) practice.
The Buddha didn’t teach anyone and everyone, he taught only those who were able to understand. Before every sermon the Buddha scanned the assembly for who qualifies the purification requirement regarding the subject of conversion. There is a sutta or two where Moggallana kicks people out of the assembly for not meeting the requirement but also not leaving on their own accord.
It is simply not true that the Buddha taught everyone, there is also a sutta that the Buddha compares himself to a doctor and that some people, no matter how great the medicine or doctor, will refuse either or both the medicine and doctor.
There is also suttas that show that lay householders didn’t learn about the 5 aggregates, which was generally reserved for monastics.
Please don’t misrepresent my words, I didn’t say that the Buddha taught ‘anyone and everyone’, I said "he also spent his entire lifespan after enlightenment tirelessly teaching people from all parts of society, setting up the longest continuously surviving religious institution on earth (just to help people).
‘Those who were able to understand’ included people from all parts of society, and he spent his post-enlightenment life teaching them and setting up the monastic order for their benefit.
Obviously, the goal of the Dhamma is to become enlightened, not to solve world hunger. But I’m still going to respect Ven. Bodhi for doing something good that helps people. We still have many monastics who focus purely on teaching Dhamma.