Bodhi Leaves - Offerings and Reflections from the Buddhist West

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Final Post.

After much, much thought, I have decided that I shall be "retiring" this blog.  Simply put, I no longer have the time or resources to make the kinds of detailed posts as I had in the past.  I would love to bring back "Bodhi Leaves" at some point in the distant future but for now I shall be focusing my efforts on a new blog called "A Gentleman Pilgrim." It's dharma-themed travel blog that better suits my current blogging capacity.  If you've enjoyed any of the material on "Bodhi Leaves", then "Bodhi Steps" is certainly worth checking out.

I would thank all of my friends, near and far for all their help and support.  I would especially like to thank all of the readers, whether dedicated regulars or those led here via searches from afar.  At the end, my decision to keep "Bodhi Leaves" up has to do with you.  My writings and reflections shall remain as an offering to you all.

Lotuses for you all,
Buddhas to be,

Rob P.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Dharma Dictionary: Sangha (संघ)

Greetings Dharma Friends! Human beings are social creatures. We love to do activities in groups like watching a basketball game together, eating together (in some cases going to the restroom together), and living together. Group behavior is such a vital part of the human experience that our languages have lots of names for groups of people engaging in similar activities. For example, a group of athletes is called a team, a group of soldiers is called an army, a group of students a class, etc. But is there a name for a group of people whose common interest is spiritual practice? The answer is yes, and name for such a group is called a sangha. To call the concept of a sangha extremely important would be a gross understatement. Before delving into how sangha fits in the Buddha's teachings however, let us first look at the meaning of the word itself. 

The word sangha (pronounced sun-ghuh) comes from the Pali/Sanskrit(1,2) and means "multitude, assemblage, assembly, community, crowd, society, association, congregation, and any number of people living together for a common purpose". In usage, sangha has two distinct but related meanings. In the first sense, sangha refers exclusively to the Buddha's disciples and/or the monastic community of monks and nuns who practice the Buddha's teachings. The second usage refers to anyone, monastic or layperson, that practices the Buddha's teachings or, more broadly, anyone spiritually inclined. The emphasis in this thread will be on the second usage. 

Sangha is such a fundamental and defining characteristic of the Buddha's path to awakening that is considered one of the "Three Jewels". The Three Jewels are 'Buddha', the teacher of the path to enlightenment, 'Dharma', the teachings that lead us to awakening, and finally 'Sangha', the community that practices the Buddha's Dharma. Many might find it odd that a sense of community is so strongly emphasized, particularly in light of the focus on solitary, monastic practice that is found in many of the early texts. The Venerable Ananda, the Buddha's cousin and attendant, touched on this idea in a famous Pali Sutta (3). Here he tells the Buddha, 
"...This is half of the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship,  admirable camaraderie." 
The Buddha's response?
"Don't say that, Ananda.  Don't say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path". 
In our time, we have the expression, "a friend in need is a friend indeed", that is friends who stay with us and never abandon us, no matter how bad the situation may be, are considered the best/truest of friends. This is the purpose and value of a sangha. As a group of like-minded people practicing the Buddha's teachings, we can relate to issues that arise on the path and offer effective help precisely because of our common, spiritual association. A spiritual friend of this sort is known as kalyana mitra in Sanskrit and we can think of a sangha as a group of spiritual friends. Often times these spiritual friends are the Dharma teachers that we learn from. Many times however, they can be our peers or anyone that we happen to learn an insightful lesson from. 

One way we can remind ourselves of the preciousness and importance of the Sangha is to recite/chant/read verses of in praise of it. This has been a traditional practice since the time of the Buddha himself.  As you read these words of devotion (4), remember that you too are part of the Sangha: 
Now let us chant the recollection of the Sangha.
They are the Blessed One's disciples, who have practiced well,
Who have practiced directly,
Who have practiced insightfully,
Those who practice with integrity--
That is the four pairs, the eight kinds of noble beings--
These are the Blessed One's disciples.
Such ones are worthy of gifts, worthy of hospitality, worthy of
worthy of respect;
They give occasion for incomparable goodness to arise in the world.

Now let us chant the supreme praise of the Sangha
Born of the Dhamma, that Sangha which has practiced well,
The field of the Sangha formed of eight kinds of noble beings,
Guided in body and mind by excellent morality and virtue.
I revere that assembly of noble beings perfected in purity.
The Sangha, which is the supreme, secure refuge of all beings--
As the Third Object of Recollection, I venerate it with bowed head.
I am indeed the Sangha's servant, the Sangha is my Lord and Guide.
The Sangha is sorrow's destroyer and it bestows blessings on me.


(1)Pali Text Society's Pali-English Dictionary Online, p. 667
(2)Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Motilal, 2005 reprint,
(4) From the Abhayagiri Monastery Chanting Book, Evening Chanting, p. 13.  The book is freely available in .pdf format: (


Still Standing...

Greetings Dharma Friends.  It has been almost a year since I last posted anything on this blog and the reasons for this are varied.  After a very long break, however, I plan to start posting regularly.  Although I no longer have the time to post as often as I used to, I'm aiming to have at least a couple of posts every week or so.  I also look forward to having insights shared with me.  

I will also be doing some site maintenance, going through old posts and looking for outdated/dead links, etc. 

Thanks for reading!

A lotus for you,
buddha to be

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Dharma Dictionary: Sutra (सूत्र)

It has probably happened to you at some point. You get on the subway and you see someone reading a book. At the next stop someone gets on and they begin to read a book, the same you saw before. While walking in the park, or sitting in a coffee shop, you see people reading the same book. Gradually you hear people talk about this book. You begin to wonder, what is this book about? Was it on Oprah's book of the month or something? Why are so many people reading it? Your friends and family pile on the praises for the book.  Now that your interest is piqued, the next step is to acquire a copy. Maybe you go to the local library, or even try to borrow it from a friend. You could always go to a bookstore (be in person or online) but let's say that none of these options worked. You'd really like to read this book because you see that it's touched the lives of many people, so what do you do? Would you be willing to travel thousands of miles and spend decades in search of this book? Totally insane you might say, is any book worth that kind of effort? Throughout history there have indeed been such books and ones that contain the teachings of the Buddha are known as sutras. 

The word sutra (pronounced 'soo-truh') is derived from the Sanskrit root 'sutr' meaning (1) "to string or put together, to contrive, effect, produce, compose". 'Sutra' itself means, "a thread, cord, string, that which works like a thread which runs through or holds everything together, rule, direction, any work or manual consisting of strings of such rules hanging together like threads". Another (related) definition is, "a carpenter's measuring line". The Pali equivalent is 'sutta' and has the same meanings (2). 'Sutra' is also etymologically related to the English word 'suture', i.e. the thread used to sew a wound closed. 'Sutra' itself is not, by any means, an exclusively Buddhist term. There are Hindu and Jain sutras too. In pop culture, the word is widely known and associated with texts like Patajali's "Yoga Sutras" and more famously the "Kama Sutra" of Vatsyayana (3). 

Sutras are absolutely essential because they are THE record of the Buddha's teachings. If you walk into any bookstore and wander into the "Eastern Religions" section, you'll probably find shelves and shelves of books about what the Buddha taught. All of them ultimately have the sutras as their source material. To read about something is not quite the same as reading something directly. In the same way, being able to read through what the Buddha and his disciples actually taught gives us direct access to the profound teachings that lead to liberation from suffering. 

The collection of sutras is known as the 'Sutra Pitaka" and means, "the basket of teachings". How many sutras are there? A lot. The Sutra Pitaka (in any language) consists of dozens of volumes containing thousands of sutras. This large amount of teachings often compared to a great ocean, not only because its vastness but because of its depth as well. A common expanded version of the   "Taking Refuge" verses contains the follow:
I take refuge in the Dharma,
and I wish that all sentient beings
will delve into the sutras,
their wisdom as deep as the ocean. (4)
The sutras cover every topic from basic meditation instructions and verses on virtue to inconceivable descriptions of the highest and most exalted planes of realization. With so many texts out there, which
ones should we read? Should we even attempt to read all of them? Do we need to? These are common questions which are ones that can only really be answered by looking within. Many people engage in reading the entire Sutra Pitaka as a form of practice (5). Others stick to one sutra and delve very deeply into it. It really all depends on our practice and affinities. There are certainly some sutras which are
more popular than others such as the Heart, Anapanasati, Diamond, Lotus, Shurangama, Avatamsaka, and, Mahasatipatthana to name a few. If you've never read a sutra or would like to take a closer look,
these texts aren't a bad place to start. In studying the sutras, there are a few items that we should keep in

First, it is not possible for one sutra to be "better" or "worse" than another. Every (and I mean every!) sutra was composed for a specific audience in a specific context and has a specific message. Because of this, we might find that different sutras say different things about different topics and concepts. This does not, however, mean that one text is right and one is wrong. We can compare this idea to a doctor counseling patients. If we hear this doctor telling his first patient to eat less and then telling his second patient to eat more, we might think the doctor was being contradictory. But what if patient #1 was overweight and patient #2 was underweight? Would we still think the doctor was a quack? 

The goal of every sutra is the same: lead us a step closer to liberation. Because of this, we should read/listen to them with a mind that is as calm, open, and receptive as possible. Sutras are not the sort of thing one would read in a noisy station while waiting for a crowded bus to come. Similarly, we could not fully enjoy or understand a great movie if we watched it half asleep. The right mindset for reading/reciting sutras is important enough to have lead to the tradition of reciting preliminary verses to help settle the mind. You can try it for yourself. Before opening a sutra, slowly and mindfully read its title then recite the following: 
Verse for Opening a Sutra:
The unsurpassed, deep, profound, subtle, wonderful Dharma,
In a hundred thousand million eons, is difficult to encounter;
Now that I've come to receive and hold it, within my sight and hearing,
I vow to fathom the Thus Come One's true and actual meaning. (6)
(1) Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Motilal, 2005 reprint, p. 1241
(2) Pali Text Society's Pali-English Dictionary Online p. 718.
Accessed via the "Digital Dictionaries of South Asia" Project.
(3) At a high school Interfaith presentation, I was asked, in all seriousness, if Buddhism was the "religion with the Kama Sutra" in it.
(4) From the Bodhi Monastery Liturgy:
(5) To the best of my knowledge, there is no complete English translation of the entire Sutra Pitaka although many organizations (like the Buddhist Text Translation Society) are putting much effort into changing that. I believe that a full English translation of the Pali Suttas is available from the Pali Text Society however most of the translations were done in the mid-to-late 1800s. Many of these
translations are dated and in many cases inaccurate but scholars are working hard to revise them. Its only a matter of time before all of the Buddha's teachings are available in the language of Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, and Bob Dylan.
(6) Translation from the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

When It's Time to Get Out of Bed

"Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty-four brand new hours to live"

Thich Nhat Hanh in Peace is Every Step

Photo: Morning at Bodhi Monastery, NJ; 2006