Recollection of the Buddha

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katdavis011's picture

Deep bow and much gratitude for the teaching!

manatee's picture

HOLY SMOKES ! Late to the retreat, but OH SO DEEPLY GRATEFUL to have found it . . .

Have for years worked on just about nothing but breath mindfulness . . . and OHHHHHHH, HAS IT
OFTEN BEEN SUCH A CHALLENGE !!! Had actually eschewed such visualization out of fear it
would lead me down some distracting, even delusional path. Centering prayer was hugely beneficial
for me YEARS ago, but I left that for the same reason. NOW . . . LOL . . . I find out I've been
running from something I deeply needed . . . Smiling your way, Bhikkhu, in the deepest gratitude.

May you be ever blessed with all you need to continue to bless all of us !

Bowing,
manatee

KnowThankYou's picture

Bhikkhu Bodhi, many thanks for this teaching.

gailelaine4's picture

Dear Bikkhu Bodhi,
While listening to this lesson, I was struck by the similarity of the characteristics of the Buddha you focus on to the characteristics of Jesus. I was brought up as a Catholic, and while I understand to some degree the differences between the two faiths (although without the depth of a theologian), I often appreciate the similarities between these two key figures: fully enlightened, compassionate, liberated from the cycle of life and death, blessed, teacher, etc. As one can become a Buddha, one can become Christ-like also, according to Catholicism. I respectfully suggest that these mediations you describe could use Jesus as a focus for those who are more comfortable with the religion of their upbringing, and I suppose symbols of other faiths could be used as well. The questions that arise as I write this are: Would this approach in any way interfere with the outcomes or purposes of the meditations you describe? and Do you think using a more familiar embodiment would be equally useful, or is there some unique focus on the Buddha that is important here?
Thank you so much for this retreat and for sharing your wisdom.
Gail

Bhikkhu Bodhi's picture

Dear Gail,

I did not realize that questions were still coming in on the Recollection of the Buddha retreat after Tricycle switched to the later retreats. I just discovered your question.

A Christian meditator (or one more at home with Christian contemplation) could well use Jesus as a focus of meditation and contemplate his distinctive characteristics. I don't think there is any special "mystic power" in the use of the Buddha as a focus that would be lacking in other holy figures. All meditations of this type are a means for the development of samadhi, deep concentration.

I believe that many Christian mystics through the ages have started their meditations with reflection on the qualities of Jesus. As their concentration deepens, they might then drop this mental image and settle into levels of absorption that seem to correspond to the Buddhist jhanas or even the formless attainments. Similarly, once a Buddhist gains a sufficient level of samadhi through Recollection of the Buddha, he or she might switch over to a purely observational type of practice, like mindfulness of breathing, in order to go more deeply into samadhi. Or, alternatively, they could use the samadhi obtained on the basis of Recollection of teh Buddha as a support for developing wisdom, that is, insight (vipassana) into the three marks of impermanence, suffering, and non-self.

shawnon1's picture

To those who find trouble with faith, as I do:

"I hold up a flower".

:-)

magic's picture

Thank You Dear Bikkhu Bodhi - this gave a whole new meaning and understanding to chanting the Namo Tassa! The heart now opens in a way that was not happening before. What a wonderful way to start a sitting. A deep bow of gratitude.... may all beings find peace, eric bedard

mar's picture

Dear Bhikkhu Bodhi,
I have struggle for a very long time with the first spiritual faculty: faith; I can't find it in myself and I do not wish to fake it.

I continue my practice trying to be accepting of what is - faithless and trying not to judge myself.

Throughout my life, though deeply spiritual, I have encounter the "problem" (lack) of faith, even raised as Catholic. I do "envy" those who have the ability to have faith. I wonder if you have any suggestions of this vital matter. I do know what is to live without faith.......

Thank you,

mar

Bhikkhu Bodhi's picture

Dear Mar,

I don't see Buddhist faith as involving a willingness to suppress one's capacity for rational judgment in order to accept propositions beyond the range of all possible verification. It's true that Buddhists accept such teachings as rebirth and karma, but these should not be ruled out just because we aren't able to verify them for ourselves. We don't rule out quarks and microbes because we can't experience them, but accept their reality from trust in qualified scientists. Speaking personally, I accept rebirth and karma from trust in the Buddha, and I developed this trust by studying and practicing his teachings.
In any case, if you have trouble with such doctrines, simply "bracket them," as matters that are not of immediate concern to you. But also bear in mind a Buddhist variant on Pascal's wager: one should behave ethically, for if these teachings are true and one acts immorally, one will have to face the consequences.

I believe that reading the discourses of the Buddha is the most effective way to gain faith. I found that the hard realism of his teachings, the psychological insight, the high ethical standards, and the pragmatic stress on a way to overcome suffering: all these allowed me to accept the Buddha as a peerless teacher and his teaching as an accurate guide to the most fulfilling and meaningful life. And that's my criterion for faith.

lucketttm's picture

Bhante:

As you suggest, I find it helpful to study Bhuddaghosa's detailed descriptions of these recollections in the first section of chapter 7 of his Visuddhimagga. I would like others here to know that Bhikkhu Nanamoli's excellent translation of the Visuddhimagga may be purchased in print from Pariyatti Books, or downloaded as a free PDF file from the Access to Insight website:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/list-pdf.html

I would like to ask you what is the ancient scriptural or commentarial source for the phrase "Four Protective Meditations"? Bhuddaghosa does not appear to group these four meditations in this fashion, but perhaps I have not found the right passage.

Thank you.

Bhikkhu Bodhi's picture

Dear Lucketttm,
It is good to know that the whole Path of Purification is now available online.
I just searched for "caturaarakkh*" (= "four protections" with a wild character) in the Sixth Council version of the Pali Tipitaka, which also includes the commentaries, subcommentaries, and a few later works. The search showed that the expression is mentioned once in the commentary to the last book of the Vinaya, which is ascribed to Buddhaghosa (though some scholars question this ascription). The author simply mentions caturaarakkha.m, without explanation, as if he assumes the readers would know what is intended.

Two subcommentaries to the Vinaya (Saratthadipani and Vinayalankara), brought up by the search, comment on this line from the Vinaya commentary, explaining caturaarakkha.m as "recollection of the Buddha, loving-kindness, the unattractive nature of the body, and mindfulness of death." These subcommentaries date from perhaps the 12th century, almost certainly written in Sri Lanka, so by that time at the latest the four were already grouped into a set.

Two later Vinaya works, the Mulasikkha (The Fundamental Training) and the Khuddakasikkha (The Training in Minor/Auxiliary Matters), include them in their program for the training of monks.
There are Pali verses on the four protective meditations, probably composed in Sri Lanka, which concisely cover most of the points in each meditation. In many monasteries these verses are included in the daily recitations of the monks.

lucketttm's picture

Thank you, Bhante.

cachidlaw's picture

This meditation, the three qualities of the Buddha, was so well chosen, just for me. I did, indeed, find myself calm and joyful at the end of just this brief contemplation, and I plan to incorporate it into my daily practice. You chose the three qualities well, Bhikku Bodhi, and I thank you. The explanation of all nine was also very clear and concise, and I plan to return to this first talk in the retreat several times so that the good information soaks better into my mind. I look forward to next week's!

Bhikkhu Bodhi's picture

Dear Cachidlaw,

I'm pleased to know that you find this meditation subject beneficial. I find it helpful to begin any meditation session with even 5 or 10 minutes of Recollection of the Buddha, though I also often use it as the primary subject for a full session. The Buddha too extols its benefits:

There is one thing that, when developed and cultivated, leads exclusively to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to nibbāna. What is that one thing? Recollection of the Buddha. This is that one thing that, when developed and cultivated, leads exclusively to disenchantment … to nibbāna."
Anguttara Nikaya, Ones, no. 296

KingBell's picture

I found the three contemplation described here very helpful to develop deeper faith in the Buddha. In fact when we contemplate as such , I think our aspiration too is elevated in this regard.
Thank you,

Bhikkhu Bodhi's picture

Dear KingBell,

Yes, that is very true.

BB

ansbrojim@comcast.net's picture

I think of the Buddha as a human being, not as some supernatural being that sounds Godlike. He was a man, became a monk, and then was enlightened. Why do we need to elevate him to "perfect knowledge" and "immaculate conduct". It reminds me of the catholic Church wanting to raise Pope John to Sainthood.

Bhikkhu Bodhi's picture

Dear Ansbrojim,

It is true that the Buddha can be viewed as a human being who became a monk and then became enlightened, but taking refuge in the Buddha, which is the foundation of Buddhist practice, implies that one appreciates and honors the special qualities of the Buddha that distinguish him as a fully trustworthy teacher. These qualities are sketched in the nine epithets that the texts use to describe him, among them "unsurpassed trainer of persons to be tamed" and "teacher of devas (deities) and human beings." Thus the Buddha's stature is that of a world teacher and not merely an enlightened person. For fuller accounts of the Buddha's qualities, see Majjhima Nikaya sutta no. 12, "Greater Discourse on the Lion's Roar" (which deals with the types of knowledge and self-confidence he possesses) and Majjhima Nikaya no. 47, which explains how a disciple who investigates the Buddha finds his deeds to be invariably pure, untainted by greed, aversion, or delusion. Majjhima Nikaya sutta no. 91 describes his conduct from the perspective of an outside observer, a brahmin youth who was sent by his master to follow the Buddha and report back on the Buddha's activities. It is not that *we* elevate the Buddha to godlike stature, for he never claimed to be a god. However, the Buddha does speak about his own qualities in order to inspire trust and confidence in those who have affinities with his teaching. These statements do highlight the depth and range of his wisdom and the purity of his conduct.

joliminor's picture

Thank you Bhikkhu Bodhi, somehow this meditation brought me closer to the Buddha as an entity not just philosophical formations which I associated with, so this was very important to me. The only problem I had was with the 3rd visualization of Buddha as a Blessed One along with Compassionate since in my understanding although they would go hand in hand they are not necessarily the same. The Blessed One in my understanding coinsides with being bestowed with a blessing(s) from God or Higher Power and Compassion comes from a blessing of understanding and affiliation with humanity, sentient beings and whatever surraunds us.

Bhikkhu Bodhi's picture

Dear Joliminor,

"Blessed One" is not really a satisfactory rendering of "Bhagava." I picked up this rendering from earlier translators, but I'm not happy with it, precisely because it suggests that there is some higher power that confers blessings. I don't know the exact origins of the word "Bhagava" (which certainly predates Buddhism), but it seems that from the age of Buddhism onward to be ascribed to the person one regards as the supreme teacher. Thus Hindus call Krishna "Bhagava" (as in Bhagavad Gita and Bhagavat Purana), and the followers of Ramana Maharshi referred to him as "Bhagava."
I like to understand "Bhagava" in line with the explanation in Visuddhimagga, that he is the one who fulfilled the ten paramis (generosity, virtuous conduct, renunciation, wisdom, etc.). And since what motivates a bodhisattva to fulfill the paramis is compassion, I see "Bhagava" as signifying the gracious and compassionate teacher.

ckinsung's picture

Thank you very much for your explanation, Bhante.

shin's picture

Thank you Venerable Bhikkhu for a wonderful reminder of an event of many decades ago that pointed me in the direction of practice. I had purchased a red plaster Buddha figure and placed it on a table. With no formal meditation training I thought that concentration meant staring at things... so I stared intently at this figure for some time. It wasn't long before the qualities of peace, clarity and compassion became palpable and the 'inanimate' figure didn't seem so inanimate any more! For a nano-second the room, the figure and "I" dropped away and all that was left was clear, peaceful, compassionate Presence. Needless to say neurotic 'self' immediately scrambled back into being, but still I think it was important pointer in my life.

with metta

anitababavida's picture

Thank you very much Bikkhu Bodi. Indeed there is a sense of upliftment that seems to be coming from deeply relaxing into devotion. Precious!

janetmartha's picture

Thank you so much, Bikkhu Bodi. I had some glimpses that arajam might be related to being free of neurosis, that samasam buddho might be related to the meeting of the desire to enter truth with the reality that there's nothing to lose, and bhagava with entering and releasing obstacles. Are these useful associations or more clatter to let fall away?

Bhikkhu Bodhi's picture

Dear Janet Martha,

Of course one will naturally incline to interpret these terms in line with one's predispositions, but I think it would be most fruitful, before ascribing meanings to them derived from modern modes of thought, to practice on the basis of the traditional understanding of the terms. This I will simply re-state here:

araham: one free from all mental defilements and thereby liberated from the round of rebirths;
samma sambuddha: one who has penetrated the truth and taught others about the true nature of things and the path to its realization;
bhagava: the one endowed with numerous excellent qualities who compassionately takes on the role of teacher.

Just continue to work with these. A lot of verbalization isn't necessary (I use more words than are needed just to offer a variety of handles for grabbing the cup). Keep it clear and simple.

janetmartha's picture

Thanks! That's helpful!

buddhajazz's picture

Thank you. I often reflect on how to keep my meditation alive, interesting, bright and full of energy. This is a lovely addition, a beginning, a settling into the sitting before moving into the breathing or other visualizations. Thank you.

seraphins's picture

Beautiful. Thank you Bikhu Bodhi.

outsicktoday's picture

Bikkhu Bobhi very interesting teachings. Just my reactions, but I am feeling moderate aversion in my mind while trying to do this. Lots of cynicism that I did not realize that I had about the Buddha. Statements such as perfect knowledge, immaculate conduct raise immediate objections in my mind. Personally, I tend to look at his/the teachings as somehow separate from him. When the teachings begin to discuss his qualities I glaze over them a bit as overstatement or exaggeration. I think a lot of this has to do with growing up in a household in which no particular religion was taught, but the societal emphasis was on "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus" and how wonderful and blessed and so on that individual was. Still to this day I have people that come to the door every now and again try to to convince me about it (the Churchies I call them disparagingly). This teaching unfortunately drags all that up. This may be why many of the impersonal teachings that focus on aspects such as the breath and less so on devotional aspects have been more widely accepted in "Western" Societies. Like everything else, we tend to accept what fits for us and discount or selectively ignore what appears not to. I suppose it boils down to simple like versus dislike based upon aversions in the mind, irrespective of the causes or conditions that led to them.

Insightful nonetheless and I certainly mean no disrespect here.

Bhikkhu Bodhi's picture

Dear Outsicktoday,

In traditional Buddhist countries devotional practices and contemplations play a prominent role. This came to me as something of a surprise when I first arrived in Sri Lanka, nurtured on the books on Theravada Buddhism written by English-educated Sri Lankan monks and Western writers. It takes patience for a Westerner (especially one brought up in a secular household or one reacting against dogmatic religion) to become accustomed to this aspect and learn to appreciate it. In my case, it came fairly naturally to me, since I had strong confidence in the Buddha from the time when I first became interested in Buddhism.

Please also remember that there is no compulsion to adopt a devotional approach, and certainly not to accept anything on blind faith! If this approach does not resonate with you, there are other roads of practice one can embark on, more impersonal and devoid of religious elements. Or, if one is game to try the devotional approach, one can lay aside such adjectives as "perfect" and "immaculate" and instead focus on the Buddha in simpler terms: as one who is freed from mental defilements (araham); who has understood the path to true well being and happiness and release from suffering (samma sambuddha); and who compassionately took on the role of teacher (bhagava). This might make it more comfortable without calls exceptional faith and devotion.

grnmnky1's picture

They can all be seen publicly ;-)

curryjl's picture

Thank you!

Danzen's picture

Bikkhu Bobhi thank you for the Recollection of the Buddha,and the four protective meditations.I found it hard to do while listening since I have never meditated with these visualisations. Each one of the qualities did not come easy, it made me think more about each one until i kinda got lost in thought.I will try and get the visualisations down before I start my meditation on them again.

Bhikkhu Bodhi's picture

Dear Danzen,

I assume you can see here the reply I just wrote to Sunita, who had the same problem. What I wrote to him applies to your case too. If you can't see it here (I'm not sure whether my replies are posted publicly or go to the individual writing), let me know and I'll send the same text to you.
Best, BB

sunita's picture

thankyou Bikkhu Bodhi
I found it very difficult to represent the Buddha and the qualities, in my mind. I was very surprised that i also had difficulty staying in that presence, like if i did not deserve it.
I don't think I ever did that kind of visualisation except when i was growing up as a catholic then I think I was visualising Jesus. And in fact in the meditation today that you presented, the image of jesus was coming up.
It was powerful to see the extent of my inabilities.
I wonder if it helps to choose an actual image or picture?
also I found it difficult to distinguish the 2 first qualities in my visualisation.

Bhikkhu Bodhi's picture

Dear Sunita,

This is a meditation that grows with practice and experience. It doesn't all become clear and evident at once. You shouldn't feel that you don't deserve it. We all have our faults and shortcomings, but we can remember that the Buddha acted compassionately even on behalf of someone like Angulimala, who was a serial killer.

In the meditation, visualization is not the main emphasis. The emphasis is on exploring and fathoming the meaning of the Buddha's virtues--but not through conceptual reflection, rather by absorbing their meaning through repeated exposure. Using an image is just a helpful way to visually represent these virtues.

It does help to select an actual image of the Buddha--either a picture or a statue--one that you find uplifting and calming. You need not be able to visualize the picture in detail (as the Tibetans do with some of their meditations). It's sufficient to obtain an impression of the image, enough to be able to contemplate the qualities.

The distinction between the three qualities--araham, samma sambuddho, and bhagava--becomes clearer as one becomes more familiar with their nuances and resonances. Don't worry about not being able to distinguish them in the visualization. This grows with time. The epithet araham signifies perfect purity (freedom from all defilements) and liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Samma sambuddho points to the Buddha's wisdom that has fathomed all the truths of the Dhamma. I take bhagava to represent the Buddha's compassion, and his completeness in all excellent qualities by fulfilling the paramis. The Visuddhimagga (Path of Purification) explains the qualities in detail in Chapter 7; sometimes the detail is much more than one needs!

katemack's picture

Thank you Bhikkhu Bodhi for the written recap of the 3 qualities. Without it in writing I was finding it difficult to remember which 3 of the 9 to focus on. This reply has been very helpful to me, even if it wasn't my question.

sunita's picture

thank you Bikkhu Bodhi,
this is really helpful.
I will keep practicing using the contemplation of the qualities. I am printing them separately to remind myself before I start the meditation.