Stay home in order to stay safe, for yourself and for others. While this means we at Dhammakami Buddhist Society have not been able to run our regular Dhamma and other classes in the centre, it has not meant that we can no longer practice the Dhamma. In fact, Buddhism has prepared us with the right understanding about the nature of this world – its impermanent and unreliable nature. In times of crisis, we become acutely aware of the need for Dhamma.
So, DKBS launched its weekly Online Dhamma Service on 22 March 2020. These hour-long sessions are live-streamed every Sunday at 2 pm over zoom (https://bit.ly/35juB53). We begin with a short Puja followed by a Dhamma Talk or Discourse Study led by Venerable K. Rathanasara, before ending off with a Q&A session and the sharing of merits.
The videos here are the recordings of the Dhamma Talk or Discourse Study from this Online Dhamma Service. Also included are recordings of DKBS online events.
Thoughts are more powerful than you assume
What goes on inside our heads do more than just stay in our heads. They shape our perceptions and literally create our worlds. Even the external world is an outward manifestation of our thoughts. Thoughts go on to mold our character; we become what we think. And because our thoughts do not die with the passing of our bodies, our thoughts have a profound influence on our future rebirths. It also means that the right thoughts have the power to set us on the path of transformation and to bring about bliss and happiness to the world. So, how should we understand and cultivate right thoughts?
Who causes your suffering?
The First Noble Truth tells us that Dukkha is inherent in life. Yet, when things go wrong, we often forget this and instead complain or blame others, ourselves or our past kamma. These are not helpful. Instead, by adopting the right attitude to our problems, we can go a long way to reduce our suffering. We may try to accept or fix the problem. If it does not go away, we may have to adjust or simply let it go. Having the right understanding of our suffering is crucial in the Buddhist path; for ultimately, its teachings lead us to see clearly the causes of our suffering and how we can end it all.
Are there karmically genetic diseases?
We sometimes hear people attributing a person’s disease or ill-health to his or her kamma. The fact is ill-health may be brought about when one’s bodily system is out of balance or by external factors such adverse climate, environment or accidents. Kamma sometimes play a part, especially when evil and unwholesome acts have been committed. We see examples of these in the suttas. What are they? More importantly, what can we do to treat ourselves of diseases borne out of our kamma?
Add meaning to your birthday
Birthdays are typically made out to be happy occasions when we celebrate with friends and family, often with a cake and a feast, big or small. But can we do more with birthdays? Can we add meaning, the Dhamma way? Indeed, we can. Going beyond gratifying our sense pleasures, birthdays can also be spiritually rewarding. From making wholesome wishes and skillfully acting to increase happiness, for yourself and others, to knowing where to direct your mind so that it will be filled with metta and gratitude, this talk offers insights into how we can add meaning to our birthdays and those of our loved ones.
How can we dilute our negative Kamma?
Every so often, we find ourselves doing, saying or thinking things that may be hurtful to others, even causing harm and suffering. This results in negative kamma. As Buddhists, what can we do about it? How can we dilute our negative kamma? The answer does not lie in praying to the Buddha. He cannot intervene in your kamma; only you can. Having the right understanding of our responsibility for our kamma, both good and bad, is an important first step.
Dhamma is not for everyone
The Buddha decided to teach the Dhamma when he realized that there were people around with “little dust in their eyes;” people with the capacity to receive, understand and practice the Dhamma. What are the qualities of such people? In this talk, we expound on the qualities that enable or prevent some people from receiving and benefiting from the Dhamma. Faith and wisdom keep us open to the Dhamma; while the right application of common sense, effort, self-reliance and practice are needed to develop our spiritual capacity.
Are you a potential Stream Enterer?
Becoming a stream-enterer is a significant step on our path of gradual training towards awakening. But how does one get to this stage? What are the five spiritual faculties that one needs to develop – and how do we develop them? Some of us are more inclined to be followers by faith; while others follow the path based on their understanding of the Dhamma. Who has it right? Or can both types of followers become stream-enterers?
Do all Beings undergo rebirth?
Rebirth is a fundamental concept in Buddhism. But who or what gets reborn? We know human beings do but what about ants, insects or plants and trees? Do all beings undergo rebirth? As the Buddha did not explicitly address such questions in the suttas, it will be mere speculation to try to give a definite answer. However, since rebirth is the result of clinging to the five aggregates, does it mean that the living organisms which are subject to rebirth are the ones complex enough to have and to cling to the five aggregates? This dhamma talk delves into the intricacies of the rebirth concept in Buddhism.
Spiritual healing is not a miracle
We have all heard stories of people who have been cured of their illnesses through spiritual healing. This is indeed possible but one must not think of them as miracles. They are not. While there are often physical or organic causes for our illnesses, there are also psychological, spiritual and kammic aspects to them – which spiritual healing addresses. But how does it work, or not work? When and how do we as Buddhists use spiritual healing skillfully?
Do statues have power?
Statues of the Buddha exist to remind us of what the Buddha taught. In particular, the four most common forms symbolise his teaching of the Four Noble Truths (the teaching gesture) and the development of virtues (the gesture of friendliness), mind (the meditation posture), and wisdom (the Enlightenment or earth-touching gesture). Some people, however, expect more of the statues. They believe in the power of the statues to protect them or bring them good fortunes. Do statues of the Buddha indeed have such power and more? What is the purpose of having the statues in our homes?
Digital dukkha: Its root cause and skill in means
Now, more than ever, digital technology has found its way into almost every aspect of our lives. While we have benefited from it, we have also seen the many pitfalls that come with a digital world. At their roots, the spread of online scams, addiction, hatred and self-obsession are manifestations of the same human defilements of greed, ill-will, lust, delusion and so on. How shall we understand and avoid digital dukkha? How does the Noble Eight-fold Path offer guidance for developing skillful means to deal with the dukkha of a digital age?
How can we overcome painful feelings?
The pleasant and the unpleasant in life are really two sides of the same coin. We are drawn to the former but repelled by the latter. When bad things happen, we do not just suffer the problem, we also experience painful feelings. If we harbor those feelings, they may fester and present bigger problems. So, we mask the bad with the good feelings that come with enjoying sense pleasures in this world or hanging on to pleasant experiences in the past. The Dhamma shows us that these are ultimately futile. How then are we to truly overcome painful feelings? What do we need to do?
Ignorance and the taboo of death
We know that death is inevitable; yet, we have been able to ignore it. How? Often, we make death a taboo; so that we never really have to face up to it. We hide our fears and worries associated with death by choosing to be ignorant. The Buddha, on the other hand, stresses the importance of destroying this ignorance and, in its place, developing our mindfulness of death. The benefits of so doing are many. What are they and how do they relate to our day to day living?
Do you have sixth sense?
Many of us may be intrigued by the idea of a sixth sense. In fact, the Buddha had not only talked about it, he encouraged us to develop our sixth sense. However, this has nothing to do with the sort of psychic powers in popular imagination. Instead, the sixth sense that the Buddha urged us to develop is nothing but the mind itself. A developed mind has immense power which, if correctly applied, can take us all the way to nibbana. But how does one develop the mind? The Buddha offered three interconnected ways. What are they?
Why you should practise Metta?
Metta, often translated as loving-kindness, is one of the most powerful of Buddhist practices for liberating our minds. In itself, practising metta is a meritorious act. But metta is also a base for generating other wholesome thoughts, words and deeds. The merits produced brings us happiness in the here and now as well as in our lives that follow. In all, practising metta brings about many benefits. What are these benefits?
Are there miracles in Buddhism?
Some Buddhists seem uncomfortable with the idea of a Buddha with supernormal powers. The fact is you will find a number of occasions in the suttas when the Buddha used his supernormal powers – but always as a skillful means to teach and help people on their path to enlightenment. We will look at some of these examples in this dhamma talk and go on to discuss why Buddha’s supernormal powers are in fact fundamental to the Buddhist teaching. If we reject his supernormal powers, we will be reducing the Buddhist goal of enlightenment to a mere psychological relief from the suffering we experience in our present life.
Different approaches to relieve suffering
We know that life comes packaged with the problem of suffering. The question is how we go about trying to relieve human suffering. The materialist approach tries to fix issues that arise out there in the world. The religious approach promises a better future in heaven. What about the Buddhist approach? Why does Buddhism think the materialist and religious approaches do not go far enough? What is the ultimate solution?
Topic: Five Keys to Right Speech
Discourse: (Subhasitavaca Sutta)
Each time we speak is an opportunity to do good or cause harm. Such is the power of speech. It is no wonder that right speech is one element in the noble eight-fold path. In this sutta, we learn that right speech is speech that is truthful and beneficial, delivered with gentleness and loving-kindness, and at the right time. But we all know how easy it is for our speech to go wrong. How then do we develop our capacity for right speech? The answer, it turns out, lies in the training of one’s mind, beginning with the right understanding, effort and mindfulness.
Topic: Can a Buddhist be a social drinker?
Discourse: (Sigalaka Sutta)
As Buddhists, we know that the avoidance of intoxicants and drugs is one of our five precepts. Unlike the other four precepts – not to kill, steal, have sexual misconduct, and lie – which are clearly immoral, this precept has raised questions in many a Buddhist. Can one not drink in moderation? What if it is necessary to clinch that business deal? Can a Buddhist be a social drinker? The answers to these questions must begin with the right understanding of the precept and the dangers of heedlessness in taking us away from walking the noble eight-fold path and the problems created in the here and now.
Topic: Conditions for Awakening
Discourse: (Sariputta Sutta)
If Nibbana were an ocean, the Noble Eightfold Path would be the stream that leads to it. The way to awakening therefore is to enter the stream. Once in the stream, our faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha will be unshakeable while our virtues will come naturally to us. That way, we will never be reborn in the lower realms. In fact, we are bound for enlightenment. So, what are the conditions that will help us enter the stream – and ultimately be awakened?
Topic: The Art of Listening
Discourse: (Dhammasavana Sutta)
In the suttas, we encounter stories of people who achieved various stages of enlightenment just by listening to a Dhamma talk. This is possible because these people are already advanced in their spiritual development. These stories also tell us that every opportunity to listen to a Dhamma talk can bring much benefits to us – but only if we listen with the right understanding and intention, at the right time and under the right conditions. How we listen matters. In this talk, we delve into the art of listening to the Dhamma.
Topic: What is a Buddhist sacrifice?
Discourse: (Udayi Sutta)
Animal sacrifices are a relic of the time when humans did not understand the causes of spectacular natural events such as earthquakes, thunder and floods. For Buddhists, animal sacrifices are not just borne out of ignorance, they are also violent and contrary to the first precept of not killing. In this sutta, the Buddha made clear that such sacrifices are not praise-worthy. What is praise-worthy are two types of sacrifice; one internal and the other external. Both ultimately lead to the uprooting of our defilements, such as ignorance, cruelty, and greed. So what are these two types of sacrifices that the Buddha praised?
Topic: Fortified Mind
Discourse: (Mahanama Sutta)
What if, at the moment of death, I was struck with fear, or other unwholesome emotions? Would my rebirth be unfavourable? In this sutta, we hear the Buddha lay to rest this common concern among Buddhists – the last thought moment. By practicing and developing our faith, virtues, learning, generosity and wisdom, our minds will become fortified. And this will favour a good rebirth. But how exactly do we practice and develop those qualities which fortifies our minds?
Topic: Who is Mara?
Discourse: (Soma Sutta)
The Soma Sutta illustrates one of several occasions in the suttas when Mara appeared before monks or nuns to try to disrupt their practices. The Buddha himself have had numerous encounters with Mara; notably when he was about to attain Enlightenment. But who is Mara? He is, on the one hand, a sentient being who lords over the sensual realm and strives to instill fear and desire in others so that they would remain under his control. On the other hand, Mara is also a metaphor for what keeps us in endless cycles of birth, suffering and death. There are four aspects to this metaphor. What are they? What do they tell us about how we should live our lives and what we can do to loosen the grip of Mara?
Topic: Who is your beloved?
Discourse: (Mallika Sutta)
Today’s sutta discussion underscores the importance of loving oneself. But what does it mean to truly love oneself? The Buddhist’s answer to this question begins with the right understanding of the Second Noble Truth – that our cravings are the root cause of suffering. Driven blind by our defilements such greed, hatred, and lust, our minds are merely using the body to gratify our cravings and attachments. When we seek pleasure through our five senses, it is not love but attachment and craving. If all these are not true love of oneself, then what is? How should we love ourselves?
Topic: Should we miss this opportunity?
Discourse: Yoke with a hole (Chiggala Sutta)
What are the chances of being born a human and to live with the right conditions to practise and strive towards awakening? In today’s sutta, the Buddha described just how slim the chances are. He wanted us to realise how precious our present life and the exposure we have to the Dhamma is. Knowing that we cannot afford to take them for granted, what is it that we need to do? How are we to make the best use of this rare opportunity?
Topic: Should a Buddhist Tolerate Abuse?
Discourse: Abuse (Akkosa Sutta)
When someone abuses us, we typically respond in kind: exchanging harshness for harshness. Sometimes, we may suffer in silence, often because we feel powerless to do otherwise. Other times, we may seek recourse by reporting or complaining to some authority. What would the Buddha do? Would he tolerate abuse? In this sutta, we see how skillfully the Buddha responded to a furious brahmin, meeting his anger with mindfulness, understanding and compassion.
Topic: The Art of Giving
Discourse: A Good Person’s Gifts (Sappurisadana Sutta)
Giving brings us much merits. It purifies our minds and helps us develop compassion and non-attachment. This sutta reminds us, however, that how we give is just as important. We should give with faith; give respectfully; be timely in giving; give without reservation; and give without causing harm to self or others. How should we understand these five proper ways of giving? What results from them?
Topic: Can a couple reunite after death?
Discourse: The Same in Living (Samajivi Sutta)
How can a couple stay together not just in this life but also in future lives? This was the question the Buddha was asked in this sutta. His answer was that they had to have the same faith, virtues, generosity and wisdom. The answer is both simple and profound. At a mundane level, these four qualities lead to a harmonious and positive family life in the here and now. But they also create the conditions favourable to future lives together and ultimately, Enlightenment. But how exactly do those four qualities of having the same faith, virtues, generosity and wisdom bring about such outcomes?
Topic: Attention Training
Discourse: The removal of distracting thoughts (Vitakkasanthana Sutta)
Meditation practice is necessary if we are to develop our mind along the Buddhist path. There are times, however, when negative and unwholesome thoughts may arise and even continue to occupy our attention during our meditation. How then are we to get rid of those thoughts? The first method discussed in this sutta is to shift our attention away from the unwholesome thought and towards a wholesome thought instead. But what if that does not work and those negative and unwholesome thoughts persist? What else can we do? This sutta goes on to discuss another four skillful means for getting rid of unwholesome thoughts.
Topic: How to remove grudges?
Discourse: Removing resentments (Aghatapativinaya Sutta)
Whatever the cause, resentment towards another person creates suffering for ourselves. It makes us agitated or miserable, and eventually hurts our mental or even physical well-being. Worse yet, it may lead us to destructive thoughts and even unwholesome actions. Resentment therefore creates bad kamma for us and others in this life and, if unsettled, even in the next. For these reasons, it is important for us to try to remove any resentment we may have toward another person. But how? This week’s sutta offers five ways of removing resentment.
Topic: The Goad Stick
Discourse: The Goad Stick (Patoda Sutta)
This sutta is a timely reminder in the face of the dangers of the Covid-19 pandemic. What will it take for us to see the urgency to practise the dhamma? Do we have to be like the horse which is only alerted when it is pierced to the bone? Must we personally suffer horrendous pain and face death before we act? Can we not we be more like a good thoroughbred horse which knows what to do upon seeing the shadow of the stick? We hear of sickness and death all the time – and even more so now. Shouldn’t this be enough to move us to act and practise the dhamma?
Topic: By protecting oneself one protects the others
Discourse: The Acrobat (Sekaka Sutta)
This sutta tells of a debate between an acrobat and his assistant who depend on each other to perform their acts safely. Should the assistant protect the acrobat in order to protect himself? Or should he protect himself in order to protect the acrobat? The relevance to the current Covid-19 pandemic is clear: our well-being and that of others are intertwined. But how does one protect one self and others? The answer lies in developing our mindfulness – of our body, feelings, thoughts and the dhamma.
Online Vesak Camaraderie 2020
While the Covid-19 pandemic has brought much suffering, it also holds some important lessons for us as Buddhists. This is especially so as we commemorate Vesak Day as a time for deep reflection on our life and its purpose. As the whole world literally grinds to a halt and entire cities fall silent without human activities, nature has made a return with birds singing and animals roaming the street. Likewise, if we strive to settle down and silence our minds, we too can come to understand its true nature and move towards Enlightenment. In practicing the dhamma, we can still see the light even with darkness all around us. When we are told to stay at home and practice social distancing, there too are dhamma lessons. What are these lessons? Why indeed should the entire crisis remind us of Buddha’s last words?
Shine Forth with Metta
Online Vesak Camaraderie 2020
This is a guided Metta meditation session led by Venerable K. Rathanasara. It begins with a short discourse on the virtues of developing Metta thoughts and how that eventually flows into our speech and actions, and ultimately our habits, character and future. We complete the meditation with the chanting of Metta verses.
Is Enlightenment Instant?
Online Vesak Camaraderie 2020
In the suttas, we learn of people who became awakened right after hearing the dhamma. Does this show that enlightenment can happen instantly? No, it does not. What it shows is that these people have been diligently cultivating their minds and practicing on the right path all along. They had been creating all the necessary conditions for their waking up from the deep sleep of ignorance and achieving supreme wisdom. So, what are these necessary conditions and how does the eight-fold path guide us to fulfilling them?