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This week, we will be discussing compassion. What is it, how do we practice it, and what are some of the challenges that come with practicing in?

Oftentimes, we tend to view compassion as a passing feeling. In Buddhism though, it is something to be practiced. Not just on the meditation cushion, but practiced throughout our lives in every action we do.

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Hello everybody!

We are back, and with a new cohost! Catherine has become a nun, and so will be spending the next few years offline as she goes through monastic training.

Meet Bertin—a college student from Australia and our new regular member on the podcast.

This season, we will be reviewing some foundational Buddhist concepts while building up to the larger theme of the Land and Water Dharma Service, which is happening in Australia this March. A lot of times, these long services seem grueling and unnecessary, but with a bit of Buddhist background, they become incredibly profound modes of practice. So today, we will start with a very familiar concept—the Four Noble Truths.

I apologize in advance for my low quality microphone—I will be sure to resolve the issue in future episodes.

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Hi there! It’s been a while!

Catherine and I have been really busy with school, work, and all sorts of temple happenings, so we are grateful for your patience with our episode frequency.

This time, we’ve come out of hibernation to talk about the importance of voting. In Buddhism, it might seem like we are focusing inward, and that can often be misinterpreted as we should avoid any sort of interaction with the external world. However, being members of the society that we live in and can never be separated from, we must fulfill our role and engage with society. This is exemplified in the practice of a bodhisattva, but it is also a living reality for all of us.

So, to keep this introduction brief, please go out and vote.
Vote with compassion, and vote with wisdom.

Vote with the intention to benefit all sentient beings,
Vote with sincerity, with love, and with equanimity.

Transform this Defiled World
Into the Buddha’s Pure Land
One action at a time.

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We would like to first acknowledge that this episode covers a sensitive topic, specifically recent policies by the US government that have brought great harm to immigrants.

This was recorded a while ago, when the media was focusing on government policies separating children from their families. Due to various temple responsibilities, we weren’t able to get it out as soon as we had hoped, but I feel like posting it now is also powerful because it has been over a month since we’ve recorded the episode, and there are still many children and families who are still going through immense suffering.

To be clear—compassion towards all parties does not mean allowing harmful behavior to continue. It does not mean that we are okay with one party inflicting suffering on another. We always need to work diligently in ending suffering.

What it means is that we understand that those who inflict suffering on others do so out of greed, anger, and ignorance. It means that we recognize their transgressions as the product of collective forces, and that we need to bring peace and support to both the victim and the aggressor. In this episode, we focus on directing compassion towards the aggressor in the situation because for most of us, it is very easy to give rise to compassion to the victim. Upon seeing headlines, we are able to instinctually wish that the children and their families may find a path to peace, security, and happiness. However, upon seeing these same headlines, we may give rise to anger and resentment as well, wishing misfortune and pain onto those who can be so heartless.

But in doing so, we forget our own compassion. By letting ourselves be filled with thoughts of harming others, we become consumed by the flames of anger. So, while we step in and intervene to protect victims of aggression from further harm, we must remind ourselves that the aggressors themselves are also broken.

In a previous episode, we talked about Angulimala, the serial killer. The Buddha did not get mad at Angulimala for murdering others because he understood the causes and conditions that led to its occurrence—he simply went to stop Angulimala from continuing on such a violent path. Through skillful means, the Buddha taught Angulimala to change, and he later became enlightened, showing that even mass murderers have the capacity to be rehabilitated and develop genuine compassion and wisdom. However, this did not change how villagers viewed him, and he was still harassed on his daily alms round. Ultimately, do we want to be the Buddha or the villagers? Hatred and compassion are both powerful feelings, and they can transform people in drastically different ways.

Let’s make the compassionate choice.

References

Lotus Sutra (Sakyamuni Buddha’s Past Life)

A Prayer for World Peace by Venerable Master Hsing Yun

Re: Armor of Compassion, I’ll mention this more in the blog post.

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When stepping into a temple for the first time, most new visitors feel overwhelmed by the amount of rules and regulations. In this episode of BuddhaPod, Catherine and Andrew talk about Buddhist etiquette—its purpose, its significance, and some personal stories regarding their experiences with monastery life.

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BuddhaPod by Buddhapod - 6M ago

The precepts are a critical part of Buddhism. In fact, they are the very foundation that practices such as meditation and the pursuit of wisdom rely on. With the precepts being such an important part of Buddhist living, we decided to cover the topic in our fourth episode of BuddhaPod. And so, Catherine and Andrew talk about the five precepts for laypeople—the significance of the precepts, their purpose, and how we can incorporate the five precepts into our own lives.

For more information, check out this amazing blog entry by Winson Yang.

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After attaining awakening, the Buddha traveled throughout India to teach. Along the way, he used different methods to help people of different backgrounds. In this episode, we will focus on just three of these stories. The first is of the Buddha inviting Nidhi into the Sangha, who was seen as impure and lowly by others. The second is of the Buddha teaching Angulimala, a serial killer, to stop his violence. Lastly, we discuss the story of the Buddha teaching Rahula, a young novice monk at the time.

These stories express the spirit of the Buddha’s compassion—when he attained awakening, he said the following lines:

“Marvelous, marvelous! Why is it that they (sentient beings) possess the complete wisdom of the Tathagata but do not know and see it? I should teach those beings to awaken to the holy way, so that they forever leave the snares of deluded, inverted thoughts and all see that the Tathagata’s wisdom is within their bodies—that they are no different from the Buddha.”

—Avatamsaka Sutra, Chapter 32 (T9.278.624a15)

In other words, all sentient beings are the same as the Buddha, but fail to realize it due to their deluded thoughts. Through welcoming the lowest members of society into the community, teaching a serial killer who everybody feared, and correcting the youngest monk in the Sangha, the Buddha showed through his words and actions that his teachings were for everybody, and to each of them, he presented the Dharma in a different way so that they would be relevant to each student.

References and Further Reading

The Story of Angulimala (From the Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha)

Teaching Rahula (From Chapter 31 of The Scriptural Text: Verses of the Doctrine with Parables)

The Story of Nidhi is originally from Chapter 30 of the Sutra on the Wise and Foolish, which has yet to be translated into English, but here is a summary of the tale by the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum.

For more stories about the Buddha teaching various disciples, Footprints in the Ganges by Ven. Master Hsing Yun is a good collection to start with. If you prefer to get the stories straight from the sutras, there are plenty in the Pali Canon, which can be found online via Access to Insight or in print with Bhikkhu Bodhi’s Teachings of the Buddha series.

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The central figure of Buddhism is the Buddha, but what does it mean to be the Buddha? Let’s get to know the Buddha as more than just a statue and learn about his life. Upon doing so, we find that our lives aren’t too different from the Buddha’s…

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Links to resources referenced in the podcast:

  • The Biography of Sakyamuni Buddha by Ven. Master Hsing Yun and translated by Alex Wong is a book that tells the story of the Buddha according to the Chinese Mahayana tradition, covering the entire tale starting from the Buddha’s birth up until his passing into final nirvana.
  • For further reading on the Buddha’s life, take a look at Buddhacarita: In Praise of the Buddha’s Acts, which was written by the 1st Century monk Asvaghosa and translated into English by Prof. Charles Willemen.
  • These two articles by the New York Times talk about the illusion of upward mobility in the United States. (1 and 2)
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In the pilot episode of BuddhaPod, cohosts Catherine and Andrew introduce the podcast and discuss their paths to finding Buddhism and how it has played a part in their lives as college students.

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Ultimately, practice has to start somewhere, and although we have spent a considerable amount of time in traditional monastery settings, that kind of extended retreat experience is not always an option. For those who have other commitments, getting started in Buddhism means finding a community. This community can be in any school of Buddhism—whether that’s Theravada, Mahayana, or Vajrayana. Even for those who are interested in a specific school, it does not hurt to visit a temple in a different tradition if that is what is available. The foundational teachings will transfer, and the temple will serve as a place of practice until the conditions for joining another temple are fulfilled.

For us as Asian American Buddhists, Catherine and I grew up in families where Buddhism was present, but not really practiced outside of funeral rites and annual celebrations. It was precisely through this cultural exposure to Buddhism that we both became interested in learning more, and that has led us on a path that we still walk today. Through various causes and conditions, I eventually found my way to Hsi Lai Temple in Los Angeles, where I am an active volunteer now, and Catherine found her way to Guang Ming Temple in Orlando. And despite being on opposite ends of the United States, we somehow ran into each other in the hallway of Hsi Lai Temple last summer, and that chance meeting eventually led to this podcast.

Thinking about all of the factors involved that have led us to this point here and now—being interested in Buddhism and listening to this podcast, curious to find out more, let’s make the most of it and plunge in to find out what Buddhism is about. Find a local temple and see how you can get involved!

If you are interested in finding a Fo Guang Shan (the temple that Catherine and I are a part of) branch near you, check out this directory.

If you are interested in finding temples in other traditions, take a look at this general directory.

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