Houston Buddhist Vihara - Friday Meditation Group

Dhamma Discussions - summary

Awareness of Death
Meritorious deeds - how are they transferred to next life
Virtuous conduct
Mindfulness of Body
Mindfulness of Feelings
Mindfulness of Mental States
Mindfulness of facts/factors or 'Dhammanupassana' I
Mindfulness of facts/factors or 'Dhammanupassana' II
Kamma Analysis
Mindfulness of Dhamma - the dhammas to be cultivated (latest)

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Topic:  Awareness of Death
Date: 29th December 2000

In the world there are many beliefs, rituals and practices associated with death and there are many mysteries, myths and stories centered around the phenomena of death.  We use the word death often in our daily lives.  If our car does not start we'd say the battery is dead.  The human body is like a car, when it has energy it moves around and stops running when the necessary factors, such as engine, electrical and mechanical components, malfunction.  We call the human body when it is out of life. It becomes out of life when it becomes unsuitable for the mind to dwell in.  Fundamentally, death occurs due to one of the four reason: (i) termination of Karma (Kammakhaya), (ii) end of life span - Ayu (end of strength due to genetics), (iii) end of both Karma and Ayu (iv) opposing Karma - sudden or untimely death (Akalmarana).

Buddha always advised his disciples to be aware of death.  Awareness of death brings about clarity of mind and alertness.  A person practicing awareness of death fulfills her/his duties without delay, and does not quarrel with others.  When reflecting upon death a person should not recollect the death of loved ones because that brings up sorrow.  On the other hand reflection of death is not thinking about ones own death specifically because that could bring up anxiety.  Hence, the buddhist way is to think about the nature of death.

(i) death is like a robber which robs a person of wealth etc.
(ii) death is common to everybody, whether rich or poor, strong or weak, black, brown, yellow or white, long or short, fat or lean.
(iii) death cannot be foretold by signs. For example we cannot say all the people with such and such a name, race etc. will die at a certain time of the day, at a certain age.  Similarly, the place where the body will lie after death cannot be predicted by these common signs.
(iv) Death could occur at any age, at any place, and a person's body could lie anywhere at the moment of death.

(the group discussed many questions pertaining to death after the initial presentation and the topic to be discussed in the next session was selected)
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Topic:  How does merit get transferred to next life
Date: 5th January 2001

The logical question to ask with the awareness of death is: what kind of behavior is the most suitable when facing this inevitable death".

In the daily life people buy insurance policies due to fear of disasters, dangers, calamities and losses etc.  Similarly, a wise person aware of death does meritorious deeds, and follow dhamma.  In Samyuttha Nikaya, Kosala Samyutta, "Simile of the Boulder" buddha shows that the path to follow when the inevitable happens is to lead a balanced life, follow the dhamma and to do meritorious deeds.

Meritorious deeds are those that suppresses or helps the mind be devoid the roots of defilement, i.e., greed, hatred and delusion.  Due to lack of exertion the mind always wonder alone, it thinks about past, or future. In absence of right effort the defiling conditions occur very often.  Therefore, a person will do meritorious deeds to purify the mind.

Who gets the benefit of the meritorious deeds if there is no 'self'? Is the same person who does deeds will reap the benefits or is it another person who will reap the benefits?

Buddha did not fall into two extremes when explaining who reaps the benefits.  One extreme is to say "it is the same person who reaps the benefits".  The other extreme is to say "it is another person who reaps the benefits".  It is neither the same person nor a completely different person".

Consider and infant growing up to be an old man.  An infant grows up to become a child who is not the same as the infant yet she is not completely different from the infant.  Similarly each stage is not completely different from the earlier stages and at the same time not the same as the earlier stages. It is a mental and biological process that continues. Therefore, meritorious deeds will bring benefits and happiness to the future continuing being of this process.

However, due to uncertainties in the cycles of existence in the future, it is wiser to seek Nirvana or enlightenment to end the birth, aging, sickness and death etc. The deeds that helps a person to attain Nirvana are called parami or the deeds done out of compassion (kindness) and wisdom.

Discussions on thoughts of detachments, factors leading to enlightenment, and compassion followed.
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Topic: Minduflness of Dhamma
Date: 9th February 2001

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