The PRESENT moment is important | Sunday Observer
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The PRESENT moment is important

7 August, 2022

Venerable Ajahn Brahmavamso Maha Thera (known to most as Ajahn Brahm) is the Abbot of the Bodhinyana monastery, Western Australia and the spiritual director of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia. Reproduced below is an interview the writer had with the internationally acclaimed Buddhist bhikkhu during his visits to Sri Lanka.

Q: What would be the most appropriate type of meditation for a beginner?

A: R-E-L-A-X. Relaxation meditation- any method which makes your body relax and mind less tense. Method of meditation is not as important as how you meditate.

Whether you are watching the breath, whether you are taking the breath, or whether you are focusing on the Buddha, or whether you are focusing on a method, the most important thing is not what you meditate on, but how you are meditating.

So when you are meditating, please do not try to attain things, but try to simplify things.

Do not control things, but try to make peace with things. Meditate with kindness, with gentleness and most importantly with patience.

When you meditate remember these five things. Let things go, let in peace, be kind, gentle and be patient.

Q: Is it a must to go to a monastery to practise this?

A: No, go to a ‘nice’ room in your house. Keep a cushion or two and sit down and meditate.In a monastery there are so many rituals. In your house you can practise the above mentioned simple meditation. Stay in your room... relax and meditate and have a wonderful time!

Q: Is it a sin to convert a person to some other religion?

A: It really depends on what your intention is and how you do that. After listening to my teachings, many Christians had converted to Buddhism. That is not with coercion, or with any unethical means.

Such conversions which are just done on reasons, on encouragement, without any force are ethical. But if you are converting someone by prophesying them with monetary awards, or with things which would not happen, that is unethical.

Sometimes people are forced to convert because they are given monetary incentives. It also shows that such a religion is sort of a product, to keep popularising the product they entice them with free gifts to discover the product. Similarly there are countries where people are bought by politicians. Politicians give people money to join their parties. That is unethical.

If any person gives someone money or promises them free medical care or similar incentives to convert them to some other religion that is unethical and that is a sin.

Q: But some are forced to convert to other religions because of cross-religious marriages. Does the converter commit a sin even though no monetary incentives are involved in such conversions?

A: It is unethical. If you get married, you are marrying a person for who he is. So if a Buddhist marries a Christian, the Buddhist has to accept that his/her partner as a Christian and love that person for who she/he is. And the Christian has to love the Buddhist in turn on the same grounds.

If anyone is getting married and if your partner insists that you be converted you should call off the marriage as it shows that the partner does not love you!

Buddhists are sometimes very weak. Sometimes they would say “No, I have to convert because he/she wants me to”. No, this should not be. A Buddhist would never insist anybody else to convert and people of other religions should not insist a Buddhist to convert!

Q: The Buddha was said to have imposed eight major conditions on Bhikkhunis before giving permission to establish the Order of Nuns (Bhikkuni Sasana). Under such conditions can we really say that the Buddha has given women full freedom to participate in a religious life?

A: First of all, I have to mention that other religions do not allow women even that much of freedom. But Buddhism, more than 2550 years ago, was allowing women to become nuns and practise it faithfully in a religious atmosphere. Those conditions were not supposed to hinder a female’s practising a religious life. Remember, in a monastic life we are supposed to be lessening our conceit and ego.

This is one of those practices, when instead of wanting to be on top, to be proud, we are trying to lessen our pride, to lessen our ego. And I feel Bhikkunis too are very advanced in religious practices. They look upon their state as something which helps them achieve Nibbana.

Status should be the last reason you become a nun or a bhikkhu. Unfortunately in countries like Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand many monks are attached to the status.

Q: So could imposing eight major conditions be justified? There is one condition which says that even a Bhikkuni who has been ordained even for a century must respectfully rise up from her seat ,salute with joined palms, and do proper homage to a monk ordained that day. In which discourse do we come across those conditions?

A: Eight major conditions are in the Bhikkhuni Vagga of the Chulla Vagga. It is also mentioned individually in the Bhikkhuni Patimokkha. It could be justified and there can be a reason for that. The reason actually is to assist your practice - to achieve Nibbana.

That is actually bad news for the bhikkhus (laughs), because it is more likely to make a bhikkhu proud. It is wonderful for the Bhikkhuni for she has a higher chance of lessening her defilements and becoming enlightened. It is a higher practice.

If you are a bhikkhu or a nun the sole purpose of it is to achieve Nibbana. Shedding pride and ego, in fact, assists you to attain Nibbana.

Q: Should a Buddhist stick to a vegetarian diet? If killing animals is a sin, can we justify Buddhists consuming meat?

A: I’ll give you an example. A few days ago, while travelling in the upcountry in Sri Lanka, I saw people ploughing in the fields. As they were ploughing there were lots of birds following the plough and picking out insects and worms which have been either killed by the plough, or injured by the plough or brought up to the surface by the plough. So even eating rice is at the expense of many animals’ lives.

Whatever you do, wherever you go, you may come across similar incidents. Even if you are just driving your car, you may find an insect on your windscreen or even some animals caught under the wheels of the car. Whatever you do in life is at the expense of others. So you cannot be strict. All you can do is to avoid getting involved in any sort of killing, try to lessen the destruction you cause on others.

It is very much better if you can be a vegetarian. But also remember to pay attention to what comes out from the mouth (your utterances) more than what you put inside the mouth!

Back to the topic, Some people can live long , very well being vegetarians. Other human beings can’t. It is actually bad for their health. So one’s job should be to limit the destruction.

But if you are responsible for killing an animal yourself, the consequences are heavy as your intention and proximity for killing is far closer. So if a person is a butcher who kills animals day in and day out he would fear lots of consequences for what he does. He cannot avoid it.

Q: A woman can become an Arhat, but not a Buddha?

A: That is what it is said.

Q: Is it because of their physical vulnerability?

A: No, I have gone on record in many instances where I have said that a woman can become a Buddha. In other words a person in a female body can become a Buddha. The explanation is this. If a Bodisatta is going to take rebirth to become a Buddha and to spread the Sasana once more, he would choose a country, a race, a caste and a gender which is the best for his purpose.

That is why when Gautama Bodisatta came into the world, he chose India as the country, he chose Kshatriya as the caste and also chose the form of man. He did not choose Brahmin caste or Vaishya caste, but Kshatriya because that was the best vehicle for his purpose - for spreading the Dhamma. India at that time was a patriarchal society as Sri Lanka is now. So he chose to be a man.

But there have been matriarchal societies in history where females have been the dominant gender. In such a society if a person is going to become a Buddha, that person would take on the female form as she would get more authority and power to spread the Dhamma.

In fact it does not really depend upon your gender. It is actually how a Buddha is going to use the gender, use the rights, use the social position for the purposes of spreading the Dhamma.

So a female can be a Buddha if there is a feminine society (matriarchal society) where the female is respected more than the man. Then when a Buddha is going to take birth in that society he would choose the female form.

Q: In Buddhism we are often told to forget the past and live in the present. But if the past is not to bind us where can duty lie? For example, we are bound by duty to look after our parents because they brought us up in the past?

A: The PRESENT moment is important. Your parents are right here in front of you. They are not your parents only in the past. They’ll be your parents even in the future. Buddhism says, let go of your past. Otherwise your parents might have said something to you which you are not happy with, but that does not mean you should not care for them right now.

So what we do in Buddhism, always, is to let go of the past, so that we can actually forgive. The past of many people is a place of anger, guilt and remorse. It is because of this that many people have psychological problems.

Buddhism is the only religion which says that you can forgive yourself and you should forgive yourself. It is the only religion which does not practise punishment.

Q: Though there were thousands of Arahants during the period of the Buddha, today we scarcely hear of them. What could be the reason? Is this due to complex social developments that have taken place in the modern world?

A: If one has a lot of high qualities and merit, he/she is more likely to be born in the time of the Buddha. The best students study in Colombo or the top students manage to go to Oxford, Cambridge or Harvard. Similarly the very top students managed to get into the ‘best university’ which was in the time of the Buddha! When you have the best teacher and the best facilities you get the best students. The reason is not the situation of the current society.

In fact in the time of the Buddha the society there was very prosperous. But it too had many social and political problems.

I think it is a wonderful time for Buddhism now, because we have prosperity in many countries. But people have realised that just material prosperity does not give them much happiness. You have money in most homes, but most of the time people will say. ‘Is this all?’ Is this all we need?”.

Recently there was an article about an English woman who bought a huge mansion after winning a lottery. (Nearly 42 million pounds.) The mansion was so huge with many rooms that she found it really difficult to find where her children were! So she sold the mansion and bought a very small house. It was because she realised that in a small house she’ll be with her children and her husband, but in the mansion she’ll be alone.

Even in Sri Lanka, (though people think that this is a poor country) there are much better houses now. You can travel around the world and have a lot of pleasures. But most of the people feel that there is something missing - what is missing is inner happiness or inner peace. In order to seek inner peace people have turned to Buddhism and there is a revival of Buddhism in the modern world.

Q: There is a viewpoint that it is medically advisable to consume a little bit of liquor. Is not this contradictory with the words of the Buddha who was of the opinion that consuming intoxicants is obnoxious?

A: That particular scientific evidence was disapproved about two or three years ago. It is now known as a myth. In fact the idea that consuming liquor was good for one’s health came from a research project which was done in California.

They found in a big survey that many people who took a moderate amount of alcohol seem to have less cardiovascular diseases and so the statistics implied that if you take alcohol, your heart condition is much better. But two or three years ago this evidence was reexamined.

They found that lots of people who drank wine, especially red wine, were the ones who had a high income. In this particular income level those who take red wine and those who do not were examined. It was found that those who do not take wine had better health.

Today ask any scientist in the field, he’ll tell you that alcohol is one of the greatest poisons. It is the one which causes the most number of social problems. It is far worse than heroin or cocaine. It is not a good thing to take. Give some whisky to a dog, not even the dog would drink it!

Science has proved what the Buddha said so many years ago.