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1 BUDDHIST SUNDAY FORUM Topic : Buddhist View of Life and Death (with Personal Relationship as a Focus) Speaker : Khunying Chamnongsri (Rutnin) Hanchanlash Moderator: Dr. Chris Stanford Rapporteur: Suttinee Yavaprapas On March 10th, 2556(2013) 12: : P.M. at WBU meeting room, WFB Headquarters Bldg., in Benjasiri Park,Sukhumvit 22 24, Bangkok, Khunying Chamnongsri (Rutnin) Hanchanlash gave a lecture on Buddhist View of Life and Death (with Personal Relationship as a Focus). A native of Bangkok who received high school education in the UK, Khunying Chamnongsri is best known as a bi-lingual awardwinning writer, Buddhist meditator and philanthropist. After an early career as a journalist in an English language newspaper, she co-founded the Rutnin Eye Hospital on Asok Road with the late husband, ophthalmologist Uthai Rutnin. Khunying Chamnongsri has had long experiences of Buddhist meditation under teacher in the Forest Monastery lineage. Her current interest is in finding ways to help the dying to live their last days in physical, mental and spiritual peace and dignity. It is suffice to say that she is initiating plans to create public awareness of the need for adequate and compassionate end-of-life care in Thailand. At this juncture, she is actively involved in building Thailand s first universitybased free-standing hospice, a hospice for all ages and a health sanctuary for the aged by donating 100 rai of land near Hua Hin to Mahidol University, telling her children that this is their greatest inheritance. Her best sellers include Vicha Tua Bao ว ชาต วเบา (The Art of a Life of Lightness), and Ken Krok Long Kao เข นครกลงเขา (Rolling a Mortar Downhill). Notes written during her 3-months solitary retreat at SuanMok in Buddhadassa Bikkhu s lifetime and published as FonTok Yung Tong, Fah Rong Yung Tueng ฝนตกย งต องฟ าร องย ง ถ ง (Touched by Rain and Thunders) also a won a wide readership. Khunying Chamnongsri (Rutnin) Hanchanlash started her lecture related to life and death in its natural cycle of causality, viewed from the point of relationships. Looking at life objectively, we perceive that our life comprises of relationships from birth to death relationships with our mind, our body, others (possessions, people, animals, environment), and 1

2 our duties (work, responsibilities). Death as a part of this natural cycle causality is part of the topic. She said, My understanding of death, as a natural part of life, makes every living moment amazingly rich because it gives me a chance to learn, to renew, to reflect, to rectify, to forgive and to be truly alive. Life and death are actually one and the same matter. We will die in the same approach as how we live. If we live in ignorance, our final moment will be spent in distress, without peace and mindfulness. But if we always cultivate merits and self-consciousness, we will die peacefully. Life of the awakened one is to be aware of death all the time. There is readiness to confront death. And even when the mind does not yet feel ready, it can be further trained every day. When the body is going out; the mind is to go in a less Dukkha. Communication to the dying people can happen when the mind does not create the me here and there. At that point, the mind has space for sublime attitude (The Brahmaviharas) which is a series of four Buddhist virtues 1) lovingkindness 2) compassion 3) empathetic joy and 4) equanimity. Khunying Chamnongsri believes in getting the most out of every wonderful moment in life. She realizes that there are infinite possibilities because with every moment, every interaction, we reinvent ourselves. What we conventionally call ourselves or what we take to be 'I' or 'me can be understood in terms of five aggregates. The five aggregates refer to life from the fundamental components of personality. We cling to them as devices of our experience in life, and when they break up at death, a new set of aggregates, a new life arises to continue our experience in another existence. Thus we build up one set of aggregates after another, life after life, and in that way we accumulate Dukkha, the suffering, in the round of Samsara. The Buddha says that the five aggregates have to be fully understood. The purpose is to create the wisdom of not-self. We wish to see personal experience in terms of processes rather than in terms of a self and what affects a self. This should create equanimity leading us to overcome the emotional disruption of hope and fear about the things of the world. The five aggregates are our hindrance, yet, they provide us with wisdom. To bring suffering to an end we have to turn our attention around and see into the nature of the five aggregates: 1. material form 2. sensation 3. perception 4. mental formations 5. consciousness. Generally speaking, the first aggregate is our physical form. The second is made up of our feelings, emotional and physical, and our senses -- seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling. The third aggregate, perception, takes in most 2

3 of what we call thinking -- conceptualization, cognition, reasoning. This also includes the recognition that occurs when an organ comes into contact with an object. The object perceived may be a physical or mental object, such as an idea. The fourth aggregate, mental formations, includes habits, prejudices and predispositions. The causes and effects of karma are vital to the fourth aggregate. The fifth aggregate, consciousness, is awareness of or sensitivity to an object. To fully understand the five aggregates means to see them as they really are, in terms of the three characteristics of existence, that is, Anicca or Impermanence all conditioned things are in a constant state of flux and eventually cease to exist, Dhukka or Unsatisfactoriness nothing found in the physical world or the psychological realm can bring lasting deep satisfaction, and Anatta or Non-self nothing has a separate existence or a separate life, but everything has to inter-be with everything else. It is just a natural process. Wisdom is thus the ultimate benefit we can gain from nature. Man and nature are inseparable. We are no more important than nature, as nature is no more important than us. As such, man and nature are one. In this connection, Khunying Chamnongsri mentioned about the four noble truths as a conceptual framework for all of Buddhist thought. These four truths explain the nature of Dukkha, its causes, and how it can be overcome. There is the truth of suffering, the truth of the origination of suffering, the truth of the cessation of suffering, and the truth of the path to the cessation of suffering. The four noble truths allow us to progressively reach the state of liberation and great wisdom. In other words, there is a state of transcending Dukkha with a path to peace and happiness. Buddhism is not a negative system and does not celebrate Dukkha as some people understand. Buddhism is not a system of belief, but a system of education to reach an inner wisdom. The experiential dimension is the most important dimension of Buddhism. The Buddha transformed his life not through belief but through experiential practice, where wisdom arises. In Buddhism, through study and meditation we develop three types of wisdom i.e. 1) Wisdom arisen from listening - the listening wisdom (suta-maya panya) 2) Wisdom arisen from contemplating-the wisdom of reflection (cinta-maya panya) 3) Wisdom arisen from meditation-the meditative wisdom (bhavana-maya panya). Khunying Chamnongsri gave a raisin test to experiment life in everyday living through the five doors of connecting the world. The 3

4 whole world is through sight, sound, taste, touch, smell and mind. Most people are not conscious of the working of the five aggregates as the most fundamental components of their personality. Just watch the mind and pay no attention to anyone else. Actually, no matter what we say, do or think, the effect on our own five aggregates should be the most interesting thing leaving an imprint within our mind. This is why mindfulness and being in the moment is so important. It creates the habit of our mind, which in turn influence future action, speech and thought. Khunying Chamnongsri passed out a small seed of raisin to each of us. We were asked to hold a raisin in one hand. Then we put it near our ear and listened to it. After that, we smelled it through our nose. Then we were asked to place one raisin on our tongue and to swish it around in our mouths, noticing how the flavour bursts on the tongue, noticing the texture. Then we were asked to chew the raisin, tasting it before we swallowed it. Khunying Chamnongsri reflected on her inspirations to write poetry in order to express, to teach, to explore the meaning of self and actuality. She was apparently trying to share her experience of studying and practicing Dharma. She mostly related her feelings and contemplation regarding the nature of the mind and how to develop mindfulness leading finally to wisdom. Khunying Chamnongsri pointed out daily problems such as loneliness, fear, attachment, anger, hatred and craving. She analysed the nature and the cause of these problems which could be solved by the wisdom cultivated through the serenity of the mind. Khunying Chamnongsri read some of her poems from her famous collection of poetry "On the White Empty Page" illustrating the beauty of silence and Buddhist meditative essence. Mirage Man makes masks for his own soul He looks at the masks I know myself (This is a relationship with the self. In our depression, we have nothing to go on. This is where we get the positive out of the negative.) Man makes mirrors for his own eyes He gazes at the mirrors I see myself (This is another delusion where we get the positive out of the Dukkha) Man makes images 4

5 for his own mind He points to the images These I love, those I hate. (This is a matter of relationship with the world out there. It is all through our verse composed of what we sense through sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and thought.) Man makes mirages for his life He looses himself in them This is happiness, this is sadness. (This is an answer to a lot of things. Dukkha comes from the delusion. We can understand through our choice in the five aggregates.) In closing her talk, Khunying Chamnongsri played a piece of inspirational music and asked us to create a room with wall made of music. She encouraged us to be very still with the self and pay no attention with the music. Any movement will disturb the peaceful energy of the room. We were asked to write anything we wanted and gave it away. It was a training to have liberation from the mirrors or expectations. We should not keep the paper which symbolized expectations from ourselves. With this final workshop, we can develop the right attitude to remain calm no matter what happened in life. 5

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