Mangala Sutra – Part Six

In part six of the Mangala Sutra, we look at the importance of having a teacher, guide, or spiritual friend. We are obviously going to face obstacles and hindrances on the path, so having someone with experience to support us is essential.

You may be a secular Buddhist and not wish to join any group, club, or organisation because you don’t want to be tied to any belief system, or you may be someone who doesn’t like groups and would sooner study from books. There is no problem with either of these. However, I strongly believe you still need a teacher or mentor to help you along your spiritual path.

Buddha’s teachings aren’t about blindly believing a set of principles or being given a practice and told to get on with it. It is about working on your own mind and experiences, and sorting through your own problems and difficulties. Sometimes we are going to come across obstacles that we will need help navigating. This is where teachers come in handy. They can guide us through our difficult times and encourage us to persevere.

Even though Buddha encouraged us to be a refuge to ourselves and not look for external refuge, he wasn’t talking about going it alone. He meant that we should not be looking outside of ourselves for gods or higher beings to take responsibility for our lives. That responsibility is ours and ours alone.

So, a teacher is a guide, mentor, and spiritual friend, not a god or a higher being. Their job is to help us along the way. It states this in the Dhammapada, verse 276:

‘You yourselves must strive; the masters only point the way. Those who meditate and practice the path are freed from the bonds of destructive emotions.’

There have been many reports of abuse by teachers recently, especially of a sexual nature, so it is clear we must choose our teachers very carefully. I would suggest a good teacher is someone who doesn’t profess to have all the answers because that isn’t possible. Good teachers are themselves simply working on their own practice and are willing to share their experiences with others. They would also be willing to learn from their students’ experiences. Two necessary traits of a good teacher are humility and modesty. For our part, we should realise that teachers are only human; like us, they are flawed and will inevitably make mistakes.

Buddha did not claim any divine status for himself, nor did he say he was a personal saviour. He said he was simply a guide and teacher. If your teachers don’t have any of the characteristics mentioned above but have a title or call themselves a guru or higher being, I would suggest you check them out very carefully.

Here are five qualities we should look for in a teacher:

‘Buddha’s teachings should be taught with the thought, “I will speak step-by-step” … “I will speak explaining the sequence” … “I will speak out of compassion” … “I will speak not for the purpose of material reward” … “I will speak without disparaging others.”’

Let’s look at these five qualities. As we go through them, keep your teacher/mentor in mind and see if he or she embraces these five qualities.

First, the teacher should speak step by step. It is of very little use to learn about emptiness or nonself if you haven’t first understood that there is an unease or discontentment running through your life. When I first started studying Buddhism I had so many teachings on what a Bodhisattva does and doesn’t do, but I didn’t know exactly what I was supposed to be doing myself. I learnt about how Milarepa (a famous Tibetan yogi) became enlightened in one lifetime, but Buddha took three countless aeons. I expect these stories have their place, but it certainly isn’t when one is just starting out on the path.

We need to start at the beginning of the path and slowly work our way along, one step at a time. This will help reduce any confusion. Many students get so confused that they turn away from Buddhism, believing it is not relevant to them, when in fact it could be that they are not being taught step by step. One of the great things about Buddhism is that Buddha’s discourses are numbered—five precepts, ten harmful acts, four truths, five qualities of a teacher—which makes it easier to follow and remember the individual steps of the teachings.

Second, the teacher should explain the sequence. I have had teachings where someone has asked about why are things done in this order, only to be told that it is tradition, which I find very annoying and not very helpful. So, the sequence should be explained. Why in the four truths do we start with ‘there is suffering’ and then go on to ‘the causes of suffering’, followed by ‘there is an end, or at least a way to reduce, suffering’, and finally, ‘the path that leads to the reduction of our suffering’? There is a reason for this sequence and your teacher should explain it clearly. This will ensure there is no confusion or misunderstanding.

Third, the teacher’s motivation for teaching should be one of kindness, caring and compassion. Teachers should see that people are discontented with their lives and need some help to find their way. Teachers should not be motivated by pride, thinking they are better than their students, or arrogant, thinking they know more than their students. Their teachings should be grounded in an overwhelming sense of wanting to help others.

Fourth, the teacher should not teach just to get material gain. How can you sit and listen to a teacher telling you not to get attached to things when the teacher quite clearly is attached to them? This goes back to a point I mentioned earlier: teachers’ words should reflect their actions.

Finally, their teachings should not disparage others. I have to be honest with you and say I have had quite a few teachings that have put other schools of Buddhism down. This, I believe, is done so teachers can gain control over their students. They say that their teachings are the quickest, best, simplest, most powerful way to reach enlightenment—all of this is said without offering any proof.

I have also had teachers make fun of other religions because these don’t believe what Buddhists believe. One ridiculed other religions for believing in god, and then he proceeded to do a protector prayer. This prayer is to ask some mythical being outside of yourself to help you—in other words, a god type figure.

Buddha’s teachings are just one form of help we can use to improve our lives, but they clearly aren’t the only one. We are all different, and so what suits one will not suit another. The teacher should focus on giving you the facts and not spend time disparaging others.

I would like to add another quality that I think is very important, and that is the five precepts. I believe any Buddhist teacher should attempt to follow the precepts. Of course, they are only human and may come up short sometimes, but they should at least try to follow them. I find it hard to take teachings on board when teachers are trying to teach me how to act, and they quite clearly cannot act that way themselves. ‘Do as I say and not as I do’ doesn’t work these days.

Check your teachers carefully and be sure their words and actions match. Also be sure your teachers challenge you and not just make you feel comfortable and safe.

How should the student act? Some people think to show respect to their teachers they have to bow down to them, treat them as higher beings, shower them with gifts and blindly follow every word they say. I do not think this sycophantic way of acting is giving respect. If you truly want to respect your teachers, then listen to their teachings, ask questions to clear up any doubts, reflect and meditate on the teaching and then, finally, put what they have taught into practice. What better way to respect anyone?

The problem with students acting this way is that they sometimes end up lusting after time with teachers, hanging on their every word and doing things they wouldn’t usually do just to please this higher being. They totally forget that this is about the student, not the teacher. They project special powers onto teachers, which they don’t have. I have a friend who thinks his teacher can hear and see everything that is happening to his students. If the teacher looks at him in an angry way, he will look back over the last few days and imagine it is for something he did. This way of thinking is not just irrational, it is also dangerous, as it is leaving you wide open for abuse.

Once you start seeing this human being as someone higher, better, and more worthy than yourself, you start along that slippery slope of being taken for a ride. This is how cults are formed. You think the teacher is a godlike figure who knows what is good for you, so you surrender. He gets you doing irrational and quite often immoral things, but you blindly follow because he is the chosen one, he knows best. This can lead you to act in an unethical way, do things you would never have dreamed of doing until you met your teacher, and it can also lead to psychological problems. What it definitely won’t do is help alleviate your suffering.

I think you have to look carefully at what you want out of your relationship with your teacher. Do you want a guide to help you reduce your suffering, or do you want someone to take responsibility for your life? ‘Are you wanting to learn from them or lean on them?’

Buddha’s teachings are an inward journey where we look at the human condition and try to tweak it to make life more bearable. It isn’t about handing over your life to someone else and letting them do whatever they want with it. I believe it is a journey of discovery about what makes us who we are, why we act in a certain way and how we can reduce the suffering in our life. For me it is not about mythical figures or realms; I see those as the outside world. It is about trying to make myself the best possible person I can be in this life, and that is why I need a teacher, or teachers, to help me explore my inner world. I don’t want to lean on them—I have my friends for that—I want to learn from them.

On a positive note, there are without doubt some wonderful teachers out there who are compassionate, grounded, and informed; we just have to find them. I will reiterate what I said at the start: it is extremely important to have a teacher/mentor to guide us along our chosen path, so please do not be put off by bad teachers—good teachers by far outweigh the bad ones.

Once we have found a teacher and have has their teachings, it is good to discuss those teachings. The main reasons for discussing the teachings is to clear up any doubts you may have, prevent you from just blindly following what has been said and to help you with your understanding of the teaching.

Doubt can totally take you off course, stop you from implementing the teaching and cause you to walk away thinking this teaching is not for you. I know in many traditional texts it is stated that you should not have doubt. But how is that possible? If you have doubt, then you have doubt. Doubts are not going to be cleared up by saying you shouldn’t have them.

What many traditional texts want you to do is blindly follow the teachings and the teachers. In my experience, this doesn’t work. If I have doubts, I discuss them and try to clear them up. I don’t suppress them or pretend I don’t have them. Buddha told a story about a blind man and a piece of white cloth, which shows how unhelpful blind faith is.

There was this man who was blind from birth who had heard from people with good eyesight that a piece of white cloth was beautiful, spotless, and clean. So, he went in search of a piece of white cloth. He came upon a man who said he had a beautiful, spotless, clean piece of white cloth, but what he actually had was a grimy, oil-stained rag. The blind man took the rag and put it on. He thought he had a piece of white cloth, so he was gratified. Buddha asked the assembly if the blind man had taken the cloth out of faith or through knowing and seeing. Of course, they proclaimed it was out of faith, and Buddha said we should never accept things out of faith alone. We should only accept things from knowing and seeing, which means from our experience.

So, don’t blindly believe things; check to see if they fit your experiences. We have to listen to, or read, teachings with a critical mind. It doesn’t matter if the book you are reading is a hundred-or-so years old, or your teacher has a wonderful title; we still need to check out what is being said. That goes for what I am saying here as well. Check my words out and see if it fits with your experiences, please don’t blindly believe it.

The final point here is that we need to discuss the teachings in order to help with our understanding. It is great to have a group of like-minded people to bounce things off or a friend that is also following the teachings of Buddha. It is funny, but once you start to articulate things they can seem different to how you imagined them in your head.

If you are studying in a group, don’t be afraid to raise any doubts you may have. When I first started studying Buddha’s teachings, I found it hard to believe in rebirth—I think a lot of Westerners struggle with this concept. As I was in a group, I didn’t want to bring it up because I thought everyone else believed it. It became quite an obstacle for me and was starting to prevent me from moving forward with my studies. One day I brought it up in a question-and-answer session. To my surprise, over eighty percent of the group were also struggling with it. It was such a weight off my shoulders.

My teacher at the time was quite forward thinking and told us not to worry about it, leave it to one side and move on. He advised us to revisit the issue now and again and see if it had started to fit into place. I have to say that it never has with me, but it hasn’t stopped my studies or, more important, my practice. As I have previously stated, I don’t know if I have been here before or if I will visit again, but what I do know is that I am here now, and that is what is most important to me. We have to understand that sometimes issues, such as rebirth or the traditional understanding of karma, cannot be reconciled, so don’t worry. It is fine to put things on the back burner. What we shouldn’t do is throw Buddha out with the bath water by dismissing the whole of his teachings because of these things.

This blog is based on my book ‘Life’s Meandering Path’- available from Amazon and Kindle.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Open Hearted Joy

This is the fourth part of the four immeasurables and in this practice we’re going to be talking about open hearted joy. I think out of all the immeasurables I like this one the best because it’s something we can all do every day.

Open hearted Joy means appreciating the happiness of others. It’s about appreciating what they have, what they’ve achieved and being really happy for them. And when I say really happy, I mean it, as this is the key to open hearted joy. So, I’m talking about real joy. Not fake joy or saying ‘Oh, that’s lovely’ and not really meaning it. Open hearted joy is real.

open hearted joy

We spend an awful lot of time on searching for our own happiness. We don’t really appreciate other people’s happiness. Open hearted joy gives us the opportunity to be happy and joyous for another’s good fortune.

In life it’s difficult to find true and lasting happiness. It takes a lot of effort. We all have fleeting moments of happiness that we enjoy and so we shouldn’t begrudge people their fleeting moments of happiness. We should join in with their feelings of happiness. Recent surveys show that if something happens to someone and they’re happy, and you share in their happiness, you get the same feelings. Sharing in someone’s joy really deals a killer blow to envy, jealousy, and pride.

In Buddhism, there is a practice called Mind Training and part of this practice is sharing our feelings of joy and happiness with others. So, instead of keeping that feeling to ourselves, we mentally share it with others. If something bad or negative happens to us, we wish that this doesn’t happen to other people. You make a wish that they don’t suffer in the same way. I personally feel this is very close to open hearted joy. Instead of us just thinking ‘I’m so happy this has happened to me,’ we try and share it, and instead of feeling jealous of other people’s joy, we rejoice in their happiness.

Now let’s look at an ‘Open Hearted Joy’ meditation practice. As before with the other immeasurables we’re going to look at the three different types of people, namely someone we care about, a stranger, and someone we are having difficulties with.

Open Hearted Joy Meditation

Sit comfortably and focus your awareness on your breath.

When you are settled, bring to mind somebody you care about. It could be a friend, family member or a loved one.

As this person comes to mind, see if you can picture them experiencing happiness. Imagine the person smiling and content.

With the intention of caring for their happiness, begin offering these phrases of open hearted joy.

(Repeat each phrase three times and pause after each one and contemplate the meaning of the words and how they make you feel)

May you be happy and have peace of mind

May your happiness flourish

I am so pleased you are feeling joy

I am truly happy for you

Now, sit with the feelings of appreciating that this person is happy and you are truly grateful for their joy.

Now bring to mind a neutral person in your life. Someone you may see on a regular basis but do not know anything about.

As this person comes to mind, see if you can picture them experiencing happiness. Imagine the person smiling and content.

With the intention of caring for their happiness, begin offering these phrases of open hearted joy.

(Repeat each phrase three times and pause after each one and contemplate the meaning of the words and how they make you feel)

May you be happy and have peace of mind

May your happiness flourish

I am so pleased you are feeling joy

I am truly happy for you

Now, sit with the feelings of appreciating that this person is happy and you are truly grateful for their joy.

Now, picture someone you are having difficulties with. As you do this practice, try to put those difficulties to one side.

As this person comes to mind, see if you can picture them experiencing happiness. Imagine the person smiling and content.

With the intention of caring for their happiness, begin offering these phrases of open hearted joy.

(Repeat each phrase three times and pause after each one and contemplate the meaning of the words and how they make you feel)

May you be happy and have peace of mind

May your happiness flourish

I am so pleased you are feeling joy

I am truly happy for you

Now, sit with the feelings of appreciating that this person is happy and you are truly grateful for their joy.

Now, slowly open your eyes.

This brings us to the end of the four immeasurables. We’ve looked at Equanimity, how we can break down the boundaries and barriers between different types of people. We’ve also looked at Kind Heartedness, where we want everybody to be happy. We’ve further looked at compassion, where we don’t want anybody to suffer, and finally we looked at Open Hearted Joy, where we want to join in and appreciate everybody’s happiness. These are the four immeasurables.

I would encourage you to keep practicing these four immeasurable meditations. In the end, they will make you more kind, more caring, more compassionate, and more able to join in other people’s joy.

ou can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Mangala Sutra – Part Two

In part two of this series on the Mangala sutra, we will look at the supporting principles. The first principle is:

Have good learning skills

For us to be able to follow a path in life, we must first learn about it. If we do not put our full effort into learning, we may misunderstand the path, which in turn may take us off in the wrong direction, and that could cause us to suffer even more.

If you are reading a spiritual book, or at a teaching, and you are not giving it your full attention, you will not be taking anything in. It will be like pouring water into an upturned glass. No matter how much water you pour, nothing is going to go inside.

If you read a spiritual book or hear a teaching and within a few minutes have totally forgotten it, it would be like pouring water into a glass with a hole in it. No matter how much water you pour in, nothing stays inside the glass.

If you are reading or listening to a teaching and you have the wrong attitude—such as feeling you know better than the teacher, you don’t believe what is being said or you think it will never be able to help you—it would be like pouring water into a glass with poison inside.

So, you should take the teachings on board with an open mind. Now, I am not saying you should suspend your critical thinking, but at least take in the teachings and reflect on them later. Do not dismiss every word as soon as it has been said just because it does not fit in with your current state of mind.

To have good learning skills and get the best out of the teachings, you should be like a glass that is upright, unbroken, and clean. This way whatever you hear or read will stay inside and you will be able to understand, reflect and implement the teaching.

Have good practical skills

Once you have learned a new skill you have to be able to implement it, or what is the point of learning the skill? This is where practical skills come in useful.

If you have started learning these thirty-eight principles, or any other path, the next step would be how you can fully understand them. For this you need a calm and steady mind—so you will need meditation skills. If our mind is not calm and steady it will be agitated, and our thoughts will be blown all over the place like a discarded bag in the wind. This is where the skill of calm-abiding meditation comes in. Once we have calmed our mind, we can become more focused, and our thoughts are more likely to stay on the task at hand.

After that you need to give much thought to what you are being taught—this needs reflection skills. This is where we can focus our thoughts on one particular aspect of the path. If we are not looking deeply into what we are being taught, we could end up just blindly believing things. This is not a sound basis on which to travel down any path.

Once you fully understand the teaching or principle and have implemented it, you will need to check your progress—this needs daily review skills, such as sitting quietly and examining your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It is good to set yourself goals so you can see if you are reaching them or falling short. The review session is a time for you to reassess your goals and make changes if needed.

Follow a code of discipline

code of disciple
follow the code of disciple

As we do not live in a vacuum, we have to adhere to rules and regulations, or else society would just break down into anarchy. We all must have a set of morals or a code of ethical conduct to which we choose to adhere. I use the word choose because I believe we must personally buy into a code of ethics. If they are imposed on us, we may not follow them wholeheartedly.

Buddha taught the five precepts as a way to keep ourselves in check. They are not a list of ‘thou shalt not’ commandments, but five things we should try to refrain from doing—not because we have been told not to do these things, or if we do them, we will burn in hell, but because we want to do them; we see the benefit of doing them. The beauty of this code of ethics is that it is willingly undertaken by practitioners so they can work towards achieving a certain goal. The goal here is a reduction in their own suffering and in the suffering of others.

The precepts provide a skillful foundation for personal and social growth. Buddha was not being moralistic here; instead, he was showing us that if we want to be a responsible person within society, we have to ensure we are not harming anyone or anything. The precepts are as follows:

1.      To refrain from harming or killing other beings.

2.      To refrain from taking what has not been given.

3.      To refrain from sexual misconduct.

4.      To refrain from telling lies.

5.      To refrain from the abusive use of intoxicating drinks and illegal drugs.

Refrain from killing or harming other beings—this precept does not just cover killing humans; it also covers animals, big or small. I have added harming other beings as well because I believe if we harm or kill, we will have similar mental torment. I should make it clear here that I am talking about intentional and/or unnecessary killing. It is very difficult to go through life without unintentionally killing things. When we wash vegetables, we are more than likely killing small insects, but this is not our intention. Our intention is to prepare the vegetables for eating, so this is not what the precept is about. Having said that, we should check the vegetables beforehand to ensure there are no insects on them.

What this precept is about is refraining from intentionally killing. We have to understand that all beings have the equal right to live and be free from suffering, so that is why we have to refrain from doing them any harm.

The way to prevent ourselves from killing/harming is to understand that all beings are the same as us. They want to be happy and not suffer. So, if we know this, a feeling of compassion will rise in us and it will become much harder to kill/harm.

Refrain from taking what has not been given—if we take something that has not been given or belongs to someone else, this is stealing. It may be a pen from work, sweets from a shop, or, when you were a child, taking money from your mother’s purse. No matter how big or small, it is still stealing.

The first time we steal we may feel guilty and scared of being caught. However, the more you steal the less guilty and scared you are. In the end you steal just because you can and not because you need to. This is when stealing has become a habit.

We don’t like people stealing from us, so we should refrain from stealing from them. Once we get the reputation of being a thief, it will be very hard for people to trust us. So, by stealing we are hurting both ourselves and others.

Refrain from sexual misconduct—this is causing harm to someone using the sexual act, such as rape, sex with someone underage or sex with a married person—here the victim being the person’s partner. If we physically, emotionally, or mentally force someone into sex, this is causing him or her harm and is absolutely wrong. There are many people today still carrying the scars of sexual misconduct. So, this precept should not be taken lightly.

I personally believe that Buddha taught the precept on sexual misconduct to help us refrain from harming someone through sex. He did not teach it to be moralistic or make people feel guilty for their sexual orientation.

He wanted us to reflect on our acts and see if they bring harm. So, in this context, I believe if we want to know if an act constitutes sexual misconduct or not, we should ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Does the act cause harm or does it bring joy?
  • Is the act motivated by love and understanding?
  • Would you like it if someone did it to you?
  • Is there mutual consent?

If there is mutual consent between two adults, it is not abusive. If it is an expression of love, respect, and loyalty, I believe it cannot be classified as sexual misconduct, irrespective of whether it is between a man and a woman, two men or two women.

Refrain from telling lies—once we have lied to someone, we invariably have to tell another lie to cover the first one, and then another, and another, until we have created a web of lies. It truly harms someone when they realise they have been lied to, and it will harm us when we are branded a liar.

I get very upset when I have been lied to, as most people do, and so I keep this fact in mind when I am talking to others.

Refrain from the abusive use of intoxicating drinks and drugs—here I have deliberately put ‘abusive use’ because I believe drinking in moderation is not a problem. Nobody is saying you cannot have a glass of wine with dinner or a beer after work. What is being said is that when we are completely inebriated, either by drink or drugs, we lose control of our body, speech, and mind. This precept is quite often the cause of the previous four precepts, so is very important to adhere to.

We may be driving home under the influence and have an accident and kill someone; steal money to cover our drink or drug addiction; come out with a pack of lies because we have no control over our mouths; or have unsafe sex with someone we met in a bar, not even considering that we or they may be married or underage.

Once we have become addicted to alcohol and drugs it is extremely hard to break the habit. So, it seems sensible not to put yourself in that position in the first place. We should remember the adage, ‘Everything in moderation’.

Practice appropriate speech

Practice appropriate speech

Buddha stated that appropriate speech is divided into four parts:

‘Refraining from lying, refraining from divisive speech, refraining from harsh speech, refraining from idle talk: This is called appropriate speech’.

Refrain from divisive speech—when people use divisive speech they are hell-bent on causing a severance between a person or a group of people. Divisive speech is never positive or productive. It is used only to harm.

This type of speech mainly stems from jealousy, pride, or hatred. I have come across it several times in the workplace. A colleague has been promoted and some people are jealous, so they try to split the workforce. This is divisive speech.

You are jealous of your sibling, so you tell divisive stories to your parents in the hope they will favour you over your sibling. This is divisive speech.

These are just two examples, but what is clear is that we must refrain from this type of speech because it will harm others and eventually harm ourselves. You will get a reputation for being someone who is always trying to cause trouble, and people will disassociate themselves from you.

Refrain from harsh words—these are swear words, bad language or words that are said only to cause harm. They are never useful or kind, and usually stem from anger or impatience.

If someone upsets us, we can lose control and say things we do not really mean. The words are meant to hurt the other person, but usually, after we have calmed down, we regret them, and the words come back to hurt us also. We must stay mindful of our speech and not allow this to happen.

Sometimes we get impatient with people when they are not doing what we want, they are doing it wrong or just differently, they are not being open and truthful, or they are not doing anything wrong, and it is just us who is irritable. At these times we tend to get angry and start saying harsh words. Obviously, the way around this is to be more patient and have respect for other people’s viewpoints and feelings.

Every time you raise your voice or say harsh words, you have lost the argument. When your voice goes up, your credibility comes down.

Refrain from idle talk—this type of speech stems from jealousy, hatred, aversion, ignorance or just having nothing better to do with your time. It is very destructive, cruel and can never be classed as helpful. At the time we may enjoy spreading some rumour or other, but just think how you would feel if people were saying the same things about you.

Idle talk or gossip is both harmful and a waste of time. I do believe that social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, encourage such unhelpful and wasteful gossip. I am not saying these sites are not of any use—I use them every day—but they can be used wrongly and end up ruining someone’s reputation or career.

So, the antidote to these four wrong ways of talking is: speak only truthful words, words that spread harmony and not discord, words that are kind and compassionate, words that help and not harm others.

If we keep these in mind and follow them, we will always be in the realm of appropriate speech. We shouldn’t take these four ways of inappropriate speech lightly, as words have the power to ruin lives. If you hit someone (which I am not encouraging you to do, I am speaking hypothetically), it will hurt for a short time and then disappear; but if you say harmful or cruel words to someone, the words can mentally scar and stay with them for years.

Support your parents or guardians

Whether your parents live alone, live with you, or live in an old people’s home, we still have to care for them as well as we can. When you came into the world you were totally helpless. It was your parents or guardians that provided for you, kept you safe and ensured you had an education. I believe that in itself deserves our heartfelt respect.

We can show our gratitude emotionally, physically, materially, and financially when it is required. Sometimes they may just want to have a chat, so make time for them. This is helping them emotionally. They may need help in and out of the bath or with some chores around the house. This is helping them physically. If there is something that will make their lives a little easier, you can buy it for them. This is helping materially. People don’t usually have lots of money in old age, so you can support them, as this is helping them out financially.

Don’t think you are too busy building your own life to worry about theirs. Remember what I said about life being like an echo? The way you treat your parents may be the way you will be treated by your children in the future.

Take care of your spouse and children

There are people who do not fulfil their basic duties to their spouse and children. Marriage is a commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly. I am not saying that all marriages should last forever; that would be unreasonable seeing that everything is impermanent and subject to change. However, whilst you are in the marriage you should be in tune with your spouse’s needs and opinions. It is not just a game of love and respect, but also of compromise and forgiveness.

When children come along, it is a whole different ball game. If you bring children into the world, you have a moral duty to care for them. You must give them parental support, nurture them into a good person, educate them and teach them the difference between right and wrong. The way you treat your children will have a lasting effect on them, so be sure it is a positive one. Scientists believe that a large proportion of the concepts we carry throughout our lives are created between birth and five years old. So, you can see what an extremely important role you have in your children’s upbringing.

Children mimic their parents. If they live in an abusive household where the spouse or children are mistreated, they may behave that way in the future, as these are the imprints that have been lodged in their consciousness and they may look upon them as normal.

You may not be able to shower your spouse and children with material gifts, but you can ensure them a safe and caring life, full of love and respect—that will last longer than any material object.

This blog is based on my book ‘Life’s Meandering Path’- available from Amazon and Kindle.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Mangala Sutra – Part One

For centuries people have been indulging in superstitions, lucky charms, omens, divinations, and fortune-telling. They have used these things to help them make decisions and keep them from taking responsibility for their own actions.

The list of superstitions and omens is endless, but they have one thing in common: they are totally irrational and based on fear and ignorance.

Buddha called all of these practices ‘low art’, and on many occasions he stated that such things are of no use as we have to take responsibility for our own lives. He believed in individual responsibility, rational thought, and social obligations rather than unhealthy fears and irrational superstitions.

This point was made very clear in the Mangala Sutra. In this discourse, Buddha was asked what the most auspicious omens were, and which ones should be followed. He didn’t directly answer the question, but instead gave guidelines of how we can make our own lives auspicious without relying on outside omens. He spoke about thirty-eight principles that, if lived by, would bring us true protection.

These thirty-eight principles gradually lead you on a journey that will see you reforming yourself and turning into a responsible person within society.

The excellent thing about this sutra is that it is firmly planted on earth. It is not metaphysical, and you are not required to pray to or believe in any superior beings or mythical characters. It is written for ordinary people and so has universal appeal. It can be followed by anyone as it is not religious and does not involve any ritual practices or ceremonies. You do not need to buy anything or even call yourself a Buddhist. It truly is a breath of fresh air.

I will talk about each of the thirty-eight principles over the next few blogs.

Avoid people exerting a negative influence

Who are these people who exert negative influences on us? They could be people who steal, kill, rape, harm others, deceive, lie, cheat, and generally have no morality and no regard for anyone else. However, they could equally be our friends, family, and acquaintances. None of us is perfect; we all have times when we are being negative.

Negativity is contagious and are minds are easily swayed into bad ways. That is why we must be on our guard and not allow people to influence us negatively.

Having said this about negative people, we must be willing to help those who find themselves in bad ways. Buddha was not saying turn your back on these people. If we can help them in some way we must, but we must remain fully aware and guard our minds, so we are not adversely influenced by them.

Buddha put this at the top of his list of principles, which shows the importance he places on it. We should follow his lead.

Associate with people exerting a positive influence

People who exert positive influences on us will help us grow in morality, wisdom, and social responsibility. They clearly understand their duties within society and know the difference between right and wrong. They will stay mindful of their thoughts and actions, and so will not knowingly cause harm to others. The person can be a parent, teacher, mentor, friend or just an acquaintance. The important thing is that they have a set of ethics and boundaries that you can learn from and follow. But remember that they are only human, and so will have negative lapses from time to time.

It is with these people we should be associated because they will help us understand the importance of virtuous actions and the harm caused by non-virtuous actions. They will help us cultivate a charitable, compassionate, kind, and helpful manner, which will assist us to move smoothly through these thirty-eight principles, so we can reduce suffering for ourselves and others.

Show respect to those who have earned it

Traditionally, the commentaries to this text say we should respect our parents, teachers, elders, and employers, but I don’t think it is up to me to tell you whom you should respect. Nobody knows better than you yourself who is worthy of respect in your life.

What I would say is that respect has to be earned and not given blindly to someone with a title, a position of responsibility or someone older than you. All of these things do not guarantee that a person is worthy of any respect. If someone—anyone—has been of great assistance in your life, you should show that person respect.

Some people do not like to show respect to anyone. They probably overestimate their own abilities, and so find it hard to believe someone else can do something better than they can. This is just pride and something they should work on.

When we show respect to someone worthy of it, we are practicing humility, and where there is humility, there cannot be pride.

Remember this: ‘Treat others with justice and respect. In the long run, how you treat others will be how they treat you’.

Live in a suitable location

Now this may sound a bit strange at first, but just think what it would be like to live in a war-torn country, or a country ruled by a dictator or corrupt government. It certainly wouldn’t be easy to openly follow some of these thirty-eight principles.

I believe in this principle Buddha is talking about a place that is suitable both materially and spiritually.

When we talk about a materially suitable place, we are talking about a place that is peaceful, secure, healthy, comfortable, and well maintained. It is an area where you can go out after dark and your neighbours are friendly and helpful, or at the very least they are not causing you any harm. It is not always possible to live exactly where we wish to because of financial constraints or the location of our workplace. However, if we feel safe and the neighbourhood is clean and tidy, this is a materially suitable location.

A spiritually suitable place would be a place where you are free to follow these thirty-eight principles, free to have your chosen religion and free to express yourself spiritually. Many people in the world do not have this freedom as they are trapped by dictators and religious fanatics.

So, if we live in a suitably material and spiritual place that is a blessing indeed. If we do not live in such a place, we have to do the best we can by following the principles we are able to. But remember that no one outside of us can rule us inwardly. When we know this, we mentally become free.

To have done good deeds in your past

Some people believe in past lives and karma; others don’t. So here it is up to you to decide what Buddha meant by the past. If you believe in past lives, you can take it that way. However, if you don’t believe in past lives or are not sure, you can take it to mean deeds you have done in the past in this life. It doesn’t really matter as the meaning of this principle will be the same.

If you have done good deeds in the past, you will undoubtedly benefit in the future. If you have been kind and helped people in the past, they will be willing to help you in the future when you need it. However, if you have refused to help people in their hour of need, you cannot expect them to run and help you when you’re in trouble. This is known as cause and effect. Whatever actions we do—good, bad, or neutral—there will be consequences. It’s as if life is an echo, and whatever we send out comes back to us.

Cause and effect runs through our lives. Sometimes we can clearly see it, and other times it is not so obvious. If you kill someone and get caught, you will go to prison. That is the obvious cause and effect. However, if you tell a lie to a stranger, you may feel there has been no effect, but it plays on your mind and causes you to be tense and ill at ease—this is subtle cause and effect. You may be able to hide this subtle effect by keeping yourself busy, but if you sit down to meditate, it will reveal itself.

So, your past actions will help shape your life now and in the future. This is not some metaphysical law; it is plain common sense. If we do only bad things and harm people all the time, our minds are going to be agitated. This will in turn cause our thoughts to be the same, and from that our actions of body and speech will be harmful. However, if we do not break the law, we help people, and we are a responsible person in society, our minds will be calm and stable.

To sum it up: ‘as the cause is, so the effect will be. As the seed is, so the fruit will be. As the action is, so the result will be’. This is something we need to constantly reflect on.

Be on a suitable path

What is a suitable path? It is a path that is going to bring us a sense of ease and satisfaction with our lives. It is a path that will help us understand our responsibilities and show us how we are interconnected to everyone around us. It is a path that will reduce our suffering and increase our happiness.

What it isn’t is a path that promises things that it cannot deliver, such as enlightenment, or a path where we feel we are right and other people’s paths are wrong, or a path that gives us more pride and other negative emotions.

There are many paths we can choose to follow. The path I am showing you here is directly from Buddha, but without any mysticism or dogma, and so isn’t something I have dreamed up myself. It is a path I am teaching from my own experience, and I am able to verify it. That doesn’t mean it will work for you; the only way you can find out is by trying it.

No path is going to be clear sailing all the time. We will hit obstacles along the way, but we shouldn’t be put off by this. If we want results, we have to put in the effort. If you are just reading this and thinking it is a good path to follow, but you don’t do any reflecting, implementing, and reviewing, how do you expect anything to change? If you are a sportsperson and you don’t put in the effort, you will not compete in the Olympics. If you are a student and you don’t study, you will not pass your exams. If you read this but don’t put in any effort, you will not get any benefit.

This blog is an extract from my book ‘Life’s Meandering Path.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

The Twelve Links of Dependent Arising

Wheel of Life – Dharmachakra

A central teaching in traditional Buddhism is the principle of dependent arising, which states that all things happen through cause and conditions and that they are interdependent. No phenomenon, whether outer or inner, occurs except as a reaction to a previous cause, and all phenomenon will, in turn, condition the following results. So, in a nutshell, because of one thing something else arises. Nothing in this world arises from its own power. Everything comes through causes and conditions.

By looking at things in this way it avoids the two extremes of eternalism and nihilism. Here, eternalism is the view that there is an external god that shapes our fate. Nihilism is the view that there is no relation between action and result, therefore our fate is predetermined.

The Buddhist view asserts that while there is no godlike figure that controls our fate, there are causes and conditions that effect our lives. We are able to change our lives because these causes and conditions can be known and changed.

There are twelve links that constitute the cycle of existence that makes up samsara. This is the endless circle of dissatisfaction that constitutes an unawakened life. We can escape this cycle of birth, old age, sickness, and death by breaking these links. 

The links are not regarded as a linear path, but a cyclical one in which all links are connected to all other links.

Being able to escape from samsara can be initiated at any link in the chain, once any link is broken, the chain is forever broken.

In Tibetan Buddhism, the twelve links are depicted in the wheel of life (called the Dharmachakra) which represents the cycle of birth, rebirth, and existence in samsara.

Link One – Unawareness

Being unaware is the basis of all the other links. It is a lack of awareness of how things really are. Our belief in a true ‘self’ and thinking phenomena are permanent leads us to project things which do not exist. We become deluded and confused. It is also about not understanding and implementing the four noble truths. The first truth states that life brings about suffering. When we misunderstand this truth, we fail to realise the true nature of our lives. We believe we are seeing the world as it is, but in reality, we are mistaken. This is where our first sense of a self is starting to form. In the wheel of life this link is depicted by a blind person.

Link Two – Action

When we misunderstand the way life is it causes our minds to become poisoned by greed, anger, and delusion, known as the three poisons. These cause us to act in certain unskilful and negative ways. It is not just because of the three poisons we perform unhelpful acts. There are numerous causes, but these are three of the main ones. We need to remember here that any act we carry out through our body, speech or mind will have consequences. This is depicted by a potter making a pot.

Link Three – Experience

Because of our unawareness, the first link, we perform an action, which is the second link, and this plants a seed in our mind. This seed is just a potential at this point and may or may not come to fruition. That will depend on if we do the same action again. In the future, because of the seed we planted, we will have an experience. This is depicted by a monkey because that is how our minds operate. We jump from one thing to another, just like the monkey jumps from tree to tree.

Link Four – Name and Form

Name and form mean the five aggregates. Name refers to the last four aggregates – feelings, perception, actions, and consciousness. Form refers to the first aggregate. The way we experience the world is through the five aggregates. Firstly, there is a form, this can be an object, sound, taste, etc. and this is picked up by your consciousness. At this point the form has not been labelled, it is just an awareness. It gets labelled by your perceptions and conceptions. Once it is labelled it causes a feeling to arise. This feeling can be pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant. We then act on that feeling. You can read more about the aggregates by clicking on this link. This link is depicted by five people in a boat. The people represent the aggregates.

Link Five – Six Perceptual Entrances

All types of form – objects, sound, smell, taste, touch, mind – are pick up by our six sense faculties – eye, ear, nose, taste, touch, and mind (in Buddhism, the mind is also classed as a sense organ). These are all developed in the womb and will soon become our only means of perception of this world. Hence, they are called the six perceptual entrances. This link is depicted by a house with six windows.

Link Six – Contact

Link four is concerned with subject and link five is the object. This link is the contact between these two. It is the contact between the sense organs and the form, through the consciousness. Three things are happening here: the form, the faculties, and the linking consciousness. For example, an object, the eye faculty, and eye consciousness. There is a form, which is picked up by the faculty (eye, ear, nose, etc) and then linked to the corresponding consciousness, such as eye consciousness and so on. This is happening simultaneously. This link is depicted by a man and a woman embracing.

Link Seven – Feeling

When the sense organs encounter a form, they bring up feelings. These feelings can be pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant. One of these feelings will be present in every experience we have. This is depicted by a man with an arrow in his eye.

Link Eight – Desire

Contact, link six, leads to feelings, link seven, which in turn leads to link eight, desire. So, first, we make contact with a form. This leads to feelings, and these lead us to have desires. These can be desiring for good feelings to last, which they obviously won’t, or bad ones to end, which, because of impermanence, they will. This is depicted by a drunken man.

Link Nine – Grasping

In the last link, we craved and desired for things. In this link, we hold onto them. We get attached and grasp at the things we like and want. This attachment to things brings us untold mental suffering. It must be noted that at this stage the process is still only mental. A man picking fruit is how this is depicted in the wheel of life.

Link Ten – Becoming

This is where patterns of behaviour are formed. Up to now the things we have craved for were just on a mental level. At this point, the actions now become physical and verbal, and so it is known as ‘becoming.’ This is depicted by a pregnant lady.

Link Eleven – Birth

Because of the imprints from your patterns of behaviour created in the last link, you have a certain rebirth. This is depicted by someone giving birth.

Link Twelve – Decay and Death

Once we are born it is inevitable that we will age, get sick and finally die. This link contains all the physical and mental suffering of the human existence. It is depicted by a dying man.

Let’s try to break this down. Because of our unawareness or ignorance of how the world really works, we act in negative and unhelpful ways. This leads us to have experiences. These experiences can be broken down into the five aggregates, form, feelings, perception, actions, and consciousness. Form is picked up by our six sense organs, eye, ear, nose, taste, touch, and mind. This contact leads us to have feelings and desires, which lead us to start grasping and becoming attached. This in turn leads us to act, and the imprints of these actions are what cause us to take rebirth. Because we are reborn, we start the cycle of old age, sickness, and death all over again.   

By understanding the 12 links, we can begin to appreciate that things do not happen on their own. There are always going to be causes and conditions. One thing is inevitably going to lead to another.  

One of the best ways to break this cycle of an unsatisfactory life is to truly understand the way the world is. Not how we want it to be or wish it was, but how it actually is. To do this we really need to imbibe Buddha’s key teachings. These are:

  • Understand and implement the four noble truths
  • Understand impermanence, and not just at an intellectual level
  • Understand the dangers of attachment and believing in a permanent and autonomous self
  • Understand that things happen through causes and conditions

If we can understand and implement these teachings, we will be able to break the first link in the chain, which in turn will break the whole chain forever.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Skip to content