I am delighted to offer this from a dharma talk offered by one of my senior students in training to become a Zen Naturalist Dharma Teacher. Andre is based in Toronto, and runs, along with his wife, Catalina, Spirit Loft.
I’ve been pushing back against translating the term duhkha as “suffering” for quite a while now; at least since I looked more deeply into what the Buddha reportedly said about it in the Pali Canon. From my reading, it makes much better sense to describe duhkha as “stressful.”
Danaparamita, the "perfection of generosity" or sharing is perhaps the most accessible entry into prajñaparamita, the "perfection of wisdom" which is the insight into the not-self nature of all phenomena.
Note how often we find ourselves struggling to find the right conditions for meditation and the cultivation of a "spiritual" mind amidst the chaos of our lives. We may feel that we need stillness and isolation to practice, withdrawal from the round of daily life. But a central teaching of the Zen tradition is that anyone can awaken to intimacy with life, and nobody can start from anywhere other than where they are at the moment.
This dialogue between the Buddha and Kutadanta resounds through history and is replayed between teacher and student often.
"Two things will lead you to supreme understanding (prajnaparamita). What are those two? Concentration (samatha) and insight (vipassana)."
--- The Buddha
Andrew Olendzki has written on papañca ( most often translated as proliferation) and, like much of his work, it is quite good. Showing just what papañca is, its pervasiveness, and that it is just this aspect of our mental experience that we are working with in meditation provides a valuable clarification of practice. It is just here that we find a basis of commonality across all Buddhist traditions. In the Pali Canon, we hear the Buddha say, “In the hearing let there just be hearing…” In Zen, we say, “Take the backward step” from being engulfed in proliferation to “just this.”
This sutta shows us that the “scope of practice” the Buddha offers has nothing to do with what we normally take to be religion, philosophy, or the nebulous “spirituality” that many “non-religious” today claim to practice. What he shows through this dialogue with Malunkyaputta is how preoccupation with metaphysical speculation is not only a waste of time, but an obstruction to actual liberation!
A wandering yogi called Vaccha asked the Buddha if the Buddha would still exist after death. This leads to an interesting and enlightening dialogue where the buddha points out that the truth is actually much more subtle and deep and not so easily nailed down by such concepts.
In the first part of this discourse, the buddha critiqued various strategies commonly used for epistemic evaluation while in the second part he asked the Kalamas pointed questions to get them to reflect upon their own empirical knowledge. Ultimately, when we look at these first two parts of this discourse, the advice given by the Buddha to the Kalamas is to dismiss speculative teachings out of hand: such teachings are not based upon any reliably verified evidence.
However, the discourse doesn’t end there and the Buddha’s project in this discourse is not simply or only negative. After providing the Kalamas with a system of investigation and critical thinking, he offers a verifiably beneficial practice which is often called the “cultivation of the four boundless qualities.”