Questions and Answers

Online Retreat

This question came up in the Online 10-day Retreat Nov 3, 2020, guided by Delson Armstrong. Day 7 was part of a daily 30-minute discussion on the suttas, the Dhamma talk and reflections.

Slightly edited to improve readability

The only thing you’re able to be able to ‘control’, is how those thoughts are arising and how to  deal with the thoughts. The idea that the mind can be affected by another person’s lust  for another individual, I don’t see that as accurate. I don’t see that as in alignment with the dhamma.

Insofar as being able to influence people through one’s mind, through using telepathic or psychic powers, that also I don’t see in alignment with the dhamma. Because it’s more about communicating the dhamma, it’s more about being able to influence in a way that is wholesome. But the idea that something unwholesome, like somebody has lust for another person and that can initiate lust in the other person, that can only be insofar as you’re reading the other person’s mind.

So, if you can be aware that that there’s lust in that person, you are aware of that lust, but it is not in you. It’s just the awareness of lust in that mind. Personally, in my experience and understanding, I don’t see it as a way where somebody’s lust for you can initiate lust in yourself. Unless you are reading that person’s mind and are aware of lust in that person, but in that awareness of the lust in that person, that doesn’t ignite lust in you. And it depends on whether you’re open to that lust.

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Category: Online Retreat

This question came up in the Online 10-day Retreat Nov 3, 2020, guided by Delson Armstrong. Day 7 was part of a daily 30-minute discussion on the suttas, the Dhamma talk and reflections.

Slightly edited to improve readability

(Question is referring to MN 148, the Chachakka Sutta.)

Thoughts are part of the mind. The mind is part of the six sense bases, so thoughts should be considered to be one of the six senses, one of the six feelings, if you will. That means that it is arisen due to dependent origination. At the level of contact, so if you have contact with something, you might have a thought about it. That thought arises through the process of perception, where the contact activated a formation that could create a consciousness, that then drives forward the idea of that thought. That’s the perceiving aspect of the thought, that it recognizes for example that’s what it is. Or if you’re having thoughts about the past, that can also happen due to contact with one of the five physical senses, or due to reflection and thinking. This is again initiated by the process of formations. Even thoughts of the future are initiated from within, meaning through the process of formations. All thoughts, whether they’re of the present moment, the present condition, or past, or future are arisen through formations. And those formations are conditioned by the contact that arises.

If you have a feeling, or there is a contact, which creates multi-sensory experiences. Let’s say you smell a fragrance, and it reminds you of something that happened in your past. The experience of that smell then activates the formations, that continue to create the perception that’s rooted in the memory. And then that creates mental proliferation in the way of reflecting on that smell, then that thought leads to another thought, and that thought leads to another thought and so on and so forth. So, all these thoughts can arise after contact. It’s only after contact the thought would arise. The contact can be through any of  the five physical senses,  or through mental objects in the mind as well.

 [Follow up question]

Can contacts from the five senses cause more thoughts to arise?

 It has been the experience of some people where there’s a lot of sounds in the background and it starts to create different kinds of thoughts about it. And then that can create more and more thoughts. But that depends upon the person’s awareness or their mindfulness. So as soon as they recognize that they’re starting to sway away and get carried away with their thoughts, as soon as they see that mental proliferation is arising, then they can recognize it and let it go. So, it is possible that the multi-sensory experiences, the different experiences of the five physical senses can create multiple thoughts as well.

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Category: Online Retreat

This question came up in the Online 10-day Retreat Nov 3, 2020, guided by Delson Armstrong. Day 7 was part of a daily 30-minute discussion on the suttas, the Dhamma talk and reflections.

Slightly edited to improve readability

Well, the good thing about Buddhism is that hell is also temporary. You don’t have to burn in hell forever and ever. There are different kinds of hell realms. There are the fiery hell realms which are hot, and the icy hell realms which are quite cold, so there are different levels of heat, different levels of cold, there are all kinds of different kinds of tortures that happen, depending upon the actions that one produces in a lifetime, depending upon one’s intentions, depending upon one’s thoughts and speech. So, there are certain unwholesome activities, including having wrong view, that could lead to a lower realm. It could lead to a hell realm, to an animal realm, or the hungry ghost realm. Anything lower than the human realm is essentially a part of expending kamma, any realm lower than the human realm is a process of expending kamma.

Over there you don’t have the opportunity – except for the animal realm where there are certain opportunities to create kamma – but especially at the hungry ghost realms and in the hell realms, it’s a matter of expending the negative kamma that one has built up. For example, you have the condition of Devadatta*. If i’m not mistaken he’s right now spending time in hell, but at a certain point in time he will become a solitary Buddha, because he also had good, wholesome kamma and took refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. So, that’s the thing; you expend all the negative kamma in hell and once that’s expended, you come back according to your good deeds. Most probably either in animal realm or in the human realm, it could even be a deva realm, but primarily probably in an animal or a human realm. 

* He was a cousin of the Buddha who tried to kill him and created a schism in the sangha.

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Category: Online Retreat

This question came up in the Online 10-day Retreat Nov 3, 2020, guided by Delson Armstrong. Day 7 was part of a daily 30-minute discussion on the suttas, the Dhamma talk and reflections.

Slightly edited to improve readability

There are the higher sensual realms, there are the brahma realms, there are different deva realms, and there are realms related to the jhanas. Then, there are the realms of infinite space, infinite consciousness, the realm of nothingness. When you experience different jhanas, they correspond to different higher realms beyond the human realm. So, there are some higher sensual realms, where you are basically enjoying the fruits of your good kamma. Just like hell is temporary in Buddhism, so is heaven. There is no eternal heaven. There are different kinds of heavens as well, depending upon the kamma you produce. And as you get deeper into your practice, you start to cultivate the jhanic factors, you start to cultivate the jhanas, and these can create the opportunity for you to experience higher deva realms, the brahma realms, and then of course the realms associated with the formless realms, the formless jhanas, as they call it.

This is really the perception and being in the realm of infinite space, infinite consciousness, nothingness, and neither-perception-nor-non-perception. In these realms it’s more of mentality, being spontaneously reborn in mentality, rather than mentality-materiality.

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Category: Online Retreat

This question came up in the Online 10-day Retreat Nov 3, 2020, guided by Delson Armstrong. Day 7 was part of a daily 30-minute discussion on the suttas, the Dhamma talk and reflections.

Slightly edited to improve readability

  In certain realms beings have lifespans of eons, but do they perceive this as such?

This question came up in the Online 10-day Retreat Nov 3, 2020, guided by Delson Armstrong. Day 7 was part of a daily 30-minute discussion on the suttas, the Dhamma talk and reflections.

Slightly edited to improve readability

That’s right, there is a different perception of time in those realms as compared to the perception of time in the human realm. I’ll give you a very simple example. it’s like how humans live up to 80-120 years old and for them that’s quite normal. But in the case of a fly,  that’s quite a long time.

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Category: Online Retreat

This question came up in the Online 10-day Retreat Nov 3, 2020, guided by Delson Armstrong.

Day 7 was part of a daily 30-minute discussion on the suttas, the Dhamma talk and reflections.

Slightly edited to improve readability

After cessation you have the arising of the links, you have the formations and so on arising. And then at the level of contact – it happens so fast – it’s contacting the unconditioned element, the Nibbāna element.

There is a way to influence that by continually letting go. This means there’s a non-involvement with the links of dependent origination as they arise, but you continually have that intention of letting go and not grasping, even at the level of contact. So, you can have the ability to get into that nibbāna element at the level of contact intentionally, if you continue to let go. At the level of an anāgāmi it will happen automatically and the contact with the nibbāna element will happen automatically. What happens after contact from that understanding is very crucial. The contact with the nibbāna element will create that relief that one feels. That relief is from having broken the fetters. In the case of a sotāpanna, it’s breaking the three fetters; in the case of a sakadāgāmi it’s weakening two of the fetters; and in the anāgāmi breaking the last two of the lower five fetters. So, that relief that’s experienced is of having let go completely, and then having that nibbāna experience.

 If there is an identification with that, it will create craving again. This happens quite naturally in the case of a sotāpanna. When that relief arises, there is that natural, immediate sense of what was that, wow! You know it was amazing and immediately you have this craving for it, in the sense of delighting in it and then identifying with it.

In the case of a sakadāgāmi, that relief becomes weaker, so there’s not much craving in that relief and it might weaken the fetter because of less identifying with it.

At the level of the anāgāmi, there is no craving, in the sense of delighting in that relief. You know there was that relief, but there’s still identification with it, meaning there’s the I just  had a nibbāna experience.

 Finally, with the arahant, because everything is seen as impersonal from the get-go, everything is just understood from complete non-involvement. That relief also is seen as impersonal, impermanent, and not worth holding on to. In that process the fetter of conceit is completely destroyed and the other fetters – the craving for existence, the craving for non-existence, and restlessness, which are actually dependent upon the conceit – are also destroyed. And of course ignorance. Once one has understood that craving and identification have completely been destroyed, that there is no more becoming, that the birth has been destroyed, and so on. This is the reason why the contact with the nibbāna element is crucial.

So, your question is: “Can it be influenced, can you have the contact with the nibbāna element after the cessation, without having it been automatic.” You can, to the extent that you continue to let go. Because the more you’re able to let go and not grasp, the easier the mind inclines towards nibbāna. You see, after cessation, at that point, the mind naturally inclines towards nibbāna. But in so far as continuing to incline there, it’s a matter of letting go, of not grasping onto anything.

[Continued question]

 So, if cessation happens without nibbāna, one grasped at the cessation experience?

  Yes, that’s right.

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Category: Online Retreat

This question came up in the Online 10-day Retreat Nov 3, 2020, guided by Delson Armstrong. Day 7 was part of a daily 30-minute discussion on the suttas, the Dhamma talk and reflections.

Slightly edited to improve readability

Watch it here

Category: Online Retreat

This question came up in the Online 10-day Retreat Nov 3, 2020, guided by Delson Armstrong. Day 7 was part of a daily 30-minute discussion on the suttas, the Dhamma talk and reflections.

Slightly edited to improve readability

Yes, there are certain habits and certain inclinations that are being built up through lifetimes, or even in choices that one makes. There are certain things about personality even up to the level of an arahant.

For example, in the way of the senses, the body has been used to certain flavors, certain choices in terms of cuisine. That’s one aspect of personality. They have their favorites in the way of how the body deals with certain things in relation to consumption of food, and things like that.  

The second aspect is how they grew up in a culture as well. Of course, with the arahant, they don’t consider culture to be something that is part of their personality. It’s just ingrained within that personality. They don’t take it to be personal, they don’t take it to be their selves.  Even in the time of the suttas, everything was in ancient north India. So, everything that everyone understood, was through that cultural context. So, there were certain things there that built up that kind of character. The Buddha and all of his cousins were of the warrior class, so they had a certain kind of understanding of how to behave, how to interact.

But it doesn’t make up any more of a being, any more of bhava. These are all accumulated tendencies that arose prior to full awakening. So there may be effects of certain understandings that were there, that would just be neutral in the sense of not having any wholesome or unwholesome effect. They’re just ingrained within the personality.

There can be characteristics like a certain inclination towards a type of food, towards a type of geography, or weather, or location. Despite all of that, when one is fully realized, even though that’s still present, it’s not personalized. It’s not in the way of I need that, or I require that. They just know that the body has become used to that. And if it’s there, it’s all well and good, if it’s not there, that’s okay too.

 So long as you understand that the character of a person is built up through various experiences, through various cultural traditions, and through various upbringings through one’s parents, elders, and teachers and so on. The difference with an arahant is that one takes those cultural contexts and takes all of what has brought up that character, to be personal.

 In the suttas you have different types of arahants. Some arahants are quite stern or driven towards asceticism. And other arahants are quite gentle and prone to seclusion. And you have arahants who are more like teachers and are prone to teaching. These are all built up because of past kamma. Kammic inclinations that were built up in previous lifetimes, and in previous choices in the present life, but those are helpful in the context of how they can  better deliver the dhamma. Or serve the dhamma and people in being able to  provide the dhamma to them.

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Category: Online Retreat