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Buddhadharma : Spring 2014
82 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SPRING 2 0 1 4 we engage in now, which again become conditions for future existence. Thus, the Buddha teaches, it was our own karmically constructive sankharas that have built up our present edifice of personal being, and it is our present constructive sankharas that are build- ing up the edifices of personal being we will inhabit in future lives. These edifices consist of nothing other than sankharas as conditioned things, the conditioned phenomena comprised in the five aggregates. The most important fact to under- stand about sankharas, as conditioned phenomena, is that they are all imperma- nent: “Impermanent, alas, are sankha- ras.” They are impermanent not only in the sense that in their gross manifesta- tions they will eventually cease to be, but even more pointedly because at the subtle level they are constantly under- going rise and fall, forever coming into being and then, in a split second, break- ing up and perishing: “Their very nature is to arise and vanish.” For this reason the Buddha declares that all sankharas are suffering (sabbe sankhara dukkha). However, they are suffering not because they are all actually painful and stress- ful but because they are stamped with the mark of transience: “Having arisen, they then cease.” Because they all cease, they cannot provide stable happiness and security. To win complete release from suf- fering, we must attain release not only from personal experiential suffering but also from the unsatisfactoriness intrinsic to all conditioned existence. This aspect of suffering is called sankhara-dukkha. It is the dimension of dukkha that is inseparable from our journey through the round of birth and death. What lies beyond the sankharas is that which is not constructed, not put together, not compounded. This is nibbana, which is accordingly called the unconditioned (asankhata)—the opposite of what is sankhata, constructed, put together, compounded. Nibbana is called the unconditioned precisely because it is a state that is neither itself a sankhara nor constructed by sankharas; it is a phenomena in their relationship to the stages of meditation. We find this usage in Majjhima Nikaya sutta 44. Here, the bodily sankhara is identified with inha- lation and exhalation “because these things are bodily, dependent on the body.” The verbal sankhara is identified with thought and examination “because first one thinks and examines, and then breaks out into speech.” The mental sankhara is identified with perception and feeling “because these things are mental, dependent on the mind.” In the development of deeper medita- tive states, the verbal sankhara ceases with the attainment of the second jhana, in which thought and examination sub- side; the bodily sankhara ceases with the attainment of the fourth jhana, in which breathing stops; and the mental sankhara ceases with “the attainment of the cessation of perception and feeling.” Putting the Brake to the Sankharas The fact that sankharas can include both active forces and the things produced by them is highly significant and secures for the term its role as the cornerstone of the Buddha’s philosophical vision. What the Buddha teaches is that the sankharas in the two active senses—the volitional activities operative in dependent origi- nation and the karmic volitions in the fourth aggregate—construct the sankha- ras in the passive sense: “They construct the conditioned; therefore they are called volitional activities. And what are the conditioned things they construct? They construct material form, feeling, percep- tion, volitional activities, and conscious- ness; therefore they are called volitional activities” (Samyutta Nikaya 22:79). Though external inanimate things may arise from purely physical causes, the sankharas that make up our per- sonal being—the five aggregates—are all products of the karmically active sankharas, particularly those we cre- ated in our previous lives. In the present life as well, the five aggregates are con- stantly being maintained, refurbished, and extended by the volitional activities ➤ continued from page 66 Jakusho Kwong, Abbot Soto Zen Lineage of Shunryu Suzuki-roshi resident training monthly sesshins guest resident practice solo retreats workshops daily meditation rural country setting Genjo-ji 6367 Sonoma Mountain Road Santa Rosa, CA 95404 707.545.8105 email@example.com www.smzc.net SONOMA MOUNTAIN ZEN CENTER