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A Plain Buddhist Manifesto (I):


An Overview
Welcome
Spiritual friends, fellows and companions, lend me your
ears.
Content
Welcome to talk number one in a series of eight entitled
A Plain Buddhist Manifesto. Tonights talk will be an
overview of the guiding principles behind a form of
Buddhism which I call Plain Buddhism.
Talks two to seven will describe how to transform the
foundations of civilisation using the principles of Plain
Buddhism that is, we shall cover the transformation of
food, clothing, shelter, medicine, community, education
and Buddhist monks and nuns.
Talk eight will provide a practical vision, a battleplan
if you will, for transforming the region into a
collection of islands of enlightened local resilience
based on Plain Buddhist principles.
By islands of enlightened local resilience, I mean a
model of society which runs against the stream of the
world. One that sees progress in terms of spirituality
instead of materiality, love and forgiveness instead of
hatred and violence, renunciation and contentment instead
of greed and selfishness, wisdom and common sense instead
of denial and propaganda, and local sovereignty instead
of centralised power.
Manifesto
These talks are daringly presented as a Manifesto to
rouse you to the reality that we live in an age where the
Buddhas dispensation has lost its way. Confused and
harmful misrepresentations of the Buddhas teaching have
become the norm. And people are practising in a way that
conduces to illness in body, mind, society and ecology.

We also live in a global civilisation in terminal


decline. We need not wait until the next decade to see
the signs, and it is no use leaving things for the next
generation to fix after we die, for the collapse is
happening now.
We are in ecological overshoot. Our soils are depleted.
Our oceans are nigh empty. People are unhappy and sick.
Families and communities are falling apart. The global
economy is a basketcase that lurches on on the basis of
wishful thinking and propaganda. The god of democracy has
failed. And the drums of war are beating in the distance.
The terminal decline of human civilisation and the
dysfunctionality of the Buddhas dispensation run in
parallel. Both can be attributed to the disappearance of
plain, common sense. So what happens when we bring back
plain, common sense to Buddhism and apply it to the lives
of ordinary people in 2015? We get a Plain Buddhist
Manifesto.
We need a Plain Buddhist Manifesto because nothing short
of a radical departure from the madness that is
mainstream culture is capable of leading us to safety.
This Manifesto is a Noahs Ark made out of plain, common
sense Buddhist ideas for a world that faces crises that
far exceed the Great Flood described in the Bible.
To the rEVOLution
The Plain Buddhist Manifesto is a call to revolution and
an invitation to evolution. It is no ordinary revolution.
Ordinary revolutions are ever the offspring of the evil
twins of hateful violence and greedy selfishness. Such
revolutions are revolutions because they are like dogs
chasing their own tails. They are circles that turn unto
themselves leading nowhere.
Evolution on the other hand is a great spiral that leads
upwards and inwards with every turn. The motions of
evolution are driven by the noble engines of, wisdom,
compassion and renunciation.
Purpose of life

Now you should know the purpose of the Buddhist version


of evolution before you take up the invitation. In other
words, what is the point and purpose of this thing we
call life? That is the question. A question so
fundamental and seemingly impenetrable that most of us
fear to utter it.
But, actually, our fears are misplaced. For the answer to
that question is plain enough. It is as plain as the
light of day that all beings wish to be happy and free
from suffering. This wish is the common wellspring of
action and decision-making in all living beings.
Therefore, clearly the purpose of life is to attain
happiness and freedom from suffering in higher and higher
degrees, in wider and wider circles, even the ultimate
degree and ultimate circle.
All people
agree that
human life
be done to

who give this even a moment's reflection will


this is the case. Thus the sticking point of
is not the purpose of life, but what needs to
attain that purpose.

While it is natural and good that different people should


have different ideas about this, ultimately, the proof of
the pudding is in the eating. We need to ask ourselves
whether the ideas we are sold about the way to attain
happiness and freedom from suffering actually work.
So let me cut to the chase. The idea of garnering
happiness for all by universalising middle-class
affluence through consumer culture is a pernicious
fantasy. Money, status and shiny stuff cant buy a good
nights sleep, let alone happiness, let alone freedom
from old age, illness and death. It was okay to walk down
that road while it seemed it might work. Now, we know it
does not.
To make things worse, our communities are fracturing for
a lack of agreement on what does work. And because of
this lack of agreement about viable alternatives we roll
on to our own dooms declaring business as usual in
upbeat tones.

Because we have lost our moral compass, we prefer to


distract ourselves with trivialities than face up to the
danger we are in.
The Noble Eightfold Way and Four Noble Truths
Is there another approach to human life that might
actually work?
The Buddhas reply was characteristically clear and
concise. It is just this Noble Eightfold Way, consisting
of Right Worldview, Right Motivation, Right Speech, Right
Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Composure
and Right Integration.
The Buddha was a master of language. He knew how to cut
right into the heart of things. When he also taught the
Four Noble Truths - that is, suffering, the cause of
suffering, the ending of suffering and the way to the
ending of suffering he summarised with grace and pithy
precision both the purpose of life and the way to that
purpose. That is, because there is suffering, the purpose
of life is the ending of suffering. Because suffering has
a cause there are things we can actually DO to bring
suffering to an end.
By bringing the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Noble
Way into the everyday context of food, clothing, shelter,
medicine, community, education, and Buddhist monks and
nuns, the Plain Buddhist Manifesto seeks to empower us
with a concrete vision of what we can do in ordinary
everyday life, both as individuals and collectives, to
bring suffering in all its manifestations to an end.
The Plain Buddhist Manifesto seeks to emancipate us by
describing how the power to change our lives and
societies really is in our hands.
The Plain Buddhist Manifesto seeks to give hope in a
disillusioned world by describing how we need not resort
to promoting violence and/or self-indulgence in order
change the world for the better. The Buddha promised that
there is a way to live life that is good in the

beginning, good in the middle and good in the end. A way


that is perfect in intention, execution and fulfilment.
And finally, the Plain Buddhist Manifesto seeks to
demonstrate that the historical Buddha taught a path
designed to bridge Samsara and Nibbana. A way of life
that makes the world a better place and which leads to
full enlightenment in this very life, at the same time.
Plain Buddhism
But before we get to the Manifesto, I need to give you a
feeling for how Plain Buddhism is different to orthodox
Buddhism. Plain Buddhism is a term Ive coined to
describe a Buddhism with three factors:
1) what I believe were the texts of the early
Buddhists and
2) what I believe is a common sense approach to
interpreting the texts of the early Buddhist; and
3) what I believe are five thematic undercurrents of
early Buddhist practice which are particularly apt
to meeting the challenges of life in the modern
world.
Personal opinion
You can see that from the outset Im owning-up to the
highly subjective nature of these teachings. As a
properly homeless Buddhist monk, my practice and
understanding of the Dhamma do not rest on the authority
of any current tradition or orthodoxy. In fact, I think
that Buddhism has been misunderstood and incorrectly
practiced by most Buddhists for over two thousand years.
A history of corruption
So the question here is why should a wise person give
weight to the personal opinion of this junior monk over
the authority of thousands of years of tradition? Because
of this: a simple pattern which neatly encapsulates human
history in every field -- Good ideas lead to popularity
-- Popularity leads to power and wealth -- Power and

wealth leads to corruption -- Corruption leads to changes


to the original ideas to justify corruption.
When we read between the lines, Early Buddhist historical
records point towards the time of King Asoka, over two
thousand years ago, not as a glorious period of
development in the Buddhas dispensation, but the
beginning of a great decline. The lavish support provided
by King Asoka to Buddhist monks and nuns led to a
swelling of Sangha numbers. The problem was and has ever
been, quantity is no substitute for quality.
What actually increased was the numbers of monks and nuns
who wore the robes for the sake of an easy livelihood,
and over the last two thousand years, such monks and nuns
have come to drown out the genuine monks and nuns of the
world.
In this way, the shelves of Buddhist monasteries, temples
and libraries have filled up with commentaries upon
commentaries written by monks and nuns, who have not
lived and behaved in accordance with the Buddhas
instructions.
There is nothing controversial in saying that the
teachings of a carpenter who has never seen wood are to
be doubted, nor that the teachings of a charioteer who
has never seen a horse are suspect. So too it is merely a
matter of plain speech and common sense to say that the
writings of a monk or nun who has not lived the homeless
life can say little of worth about the true fruits of the
homeless life.
Homeless Life
This is a standard passage from the Pali Suttas about
what it means to be a monk or nun:
A householder or householder's son or one born in some
other clan hears that Dhamma. On hearing the Dhamma he
acquires faith in the Tathagata. Possessing that faith,
he considers thus: 'Household life is crowded and dusty;
life gone forth is wide open. It is not easy, while
living in a home, to lead the holy life utterly perfect

and pure as a polished shell. Suppose I shave off my hair


and beard, put on the yellow robe, and go forth from the
home life into homelessness.' On a later occasion,
abandoning a small or a large fortune, abandoning a small
or a large circle of relatives, he shaves off his hair
and beard, puts on the yellow robe, and goes forth from
the home life into homelessness.
Clearly, from the example of the Buddhas own life and
the lives of all the great monks and nuns found in the
Suttas, when the Buddha recommended going forth from the
home life into homelessness, he meant that literally.
From the texts we know that the Buddha slept happily
under trees and on the side of the road and praised those
who did the same. The happy experience of waking up in
the middle of nowhere on the side of the road simply
cannot be simulated in sedentary life in a temple or
monastery.
Also, it is a plain but inconvenient truth that
monasteries and temples Buddhist or otherwise, in the
long run becomes centres of power, wealth and corruption.
Monks and nuns forget to struggle against their own minds
and turn instead to struggling against each other for
control over power and wealth.
The Buddha understood well that power and wealth lead to
corruption and strife. That is why he chose to live as a
homeless man for his entire life, to walk barefooted and
penniless onto his very deathbed. When a person is
homeless, she cannot accumulate wealth and power. And
thus she dwells in conditions that promote purity and
wisdom.
So why should the opinions of this junior monk be given
more weight than those of the traditions? Simple. Because
quantity is no substitute for quality. And thus, the
opinion of even a single monk who has lived the homeless
life in accordance with the Suttas should be given more
weight that the opinions of even ten thousand monks who
have not.

My story
Out of faith in the plain and common sense meaning of the
Suttas, out of love for the Buddha and the way he lived,
I have walked thousands of kilometres with little more
than three robes, a bowl and a blanket. With no money, no
organised support and no shoes, fuelled by a single meal
per day, regularly sleeping in groves and empty dwellings
found at the side of the road.
This life of asceticism and contentment described in the
Suttas, I have lived for over three years now with faith
and integrity. And I can tell you with the confidence of
personal experience that it is good, and that so long as
these two legs will bare me up, I shall do it until I
die. It is a way of life that is wide open and free. And
I have compassion for all who choose to live lives that
are crowded and dusty, whether in homes or temples or
monasteries.
Trust me
So with all of this in mind, I invite you to trust my
take on the Buddhas teaching. I am confident that I know
what Im talking about. Of course, it is one thing to be
confident, it is another thing to be correct. Thus while
I advocate myself as a person worth listening to and
following, Im not one to insist.
The Buddha taught if you want to know a persons wisdom
you need to engage him in discussion over a long period
of time with careful attention. If anything I say or
recommended doesnt sit right with you, then you should
question me about it. The delusion of the mind is a great
labyrinth, so I am grateful to be questioned or corrected
by those who reasonably believe that I what I say is
incorrect.
So thats enough on the subject of subjectivity, lets
get back to Plain Buddhism.
Pali Suttas

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Plain Buddhism is a take on the Buddhas teaching that


mimics the practices and understandings of the Early
Buddhists, the Buddhists in and around the time of the
Buddha. I think the practices and understandings of the
Early Buddhists are described with a high degree of
accuracy by the Pali Suttas.
To cut a long story short, Im not going to delve into
the strong reasons provided by text critical studies for
thinking this is the case. Instead, I will simply say
that based on the reasons given by text critical studies,
I personally decided, even before I became a monk, to
commit to the Suttas as the textual basis of my practice.
And this commitment has paid off in spades.
I should note, however, that when I say the Pali
Suttas, Im referring to the Digha Nikaya, the Majjhima
Nikaya, the Samyutta Nikaya, the Anguttara Nikaya and
only parts of the Khuddaka Nikaya such as the
Itivuttakas.
I reject the Jatakas because they are a collection of
ancient Indian fairy tales. I also reject Abhidhamma
because it is a form of sectarian commentary. And then,
just to be sure Im not accused of discrimination against
Theravada, I also reject Mahayanan canonical literature
because its also a form of sectarian commentary. I dont
refer to any of these texts at all when deciding how I
ought to practice.
I refer from time to time to the Vinaya Pitika, but
always with a grain of salt. But Im very loyal to the
Patimokkha, minus the sekhiyas, because the sekhiyas were
made up after the Buddha died.
Having stated what texts I reject, I want to make it
clear that I think that all these texts have much to
offer in many different ways. Its just that life is
short, and Im only interested in one thing, that is
making an end to greed, hatred and delusion as soon as
possible. And thus Ive made the conscience decision to
narrow the scope of my reference literature. Its worked
for me so far, and I recommend this approach to you

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because I see no reason why this approach would not work


for you as well.
Interpreting the Pali Suttas
Now, that weve established that out of all the Buddhist
texts we should go to the Suttas, what is a Plain
Buddhist approach to interpreting the Suttas?
First I want to point out the common sense fact that
interpretation is necessary and inevitable. And yet, it
is often said that an enlightened being does not
interpret anything, because she just sees things as they
are. And therefore, the way to enlightenment is to
practice not interpreting anything, seeing things with
bare awareness in terms of impermanence, suffering and
not-self.
This approach fails to acknowledge that to be aware of
experience in terms of impermanence, suffering and notself, in and of itself, is to interpret experience - and
therefore that awareness is not bare. Actually,
enlightenment does not consist of the absence of
interpretation, it consists of the presence of the fully
developed ability to consciously interpret things with
wisdom. Arahants deliberately interpret things wisely
without greed, hatred and delusion. Thus, arahants are
not characterised by an absence of interpretation, but by
the absence of greed, hatred and delusion.
Interpretation and consciousness are inextricably
entwined. Except when experiencing the ninth jhana, it is
impossible for a person to stop interpreting. However it
is possible and very common for a person to interpret,
and be in denial about the fact that he is interpreting.
And this denial will prevent a person from discerning the
difference between wholesome and unwholesome
interpretations. This is a very dangerous thing.
Let me give an example. Just say a foolish, badly trained
monk is walking down the side of a busy highway. He has
been instructed to just see things as they are. And
thus he deludedly thinks hes not interpreting anything.

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This monk strays onto the road. A very large truck bears
down on him. As per his trained habit, he interprets this
very large truck as just another example of impermanence,
suffering and not self. And thus, this foolish monk is
soon no more.
Compare this to a wise and well-trained monk who
deliberately interprets with wisdom. When faced with a
speeding truck he also interprets the truck as
impermanent, suffering and not-self, but at the same time
he also deliberately and wisely interprets the truck as a
threat to his life and his practice. Thus he quickly and
gracefully steps out of the way and goes on to live a
fruitful life and eventually attains full enlightenment.
Plain approach to interpretation
After accepting that interpretation is necessary and
inevitable and a skill to be trained, a Plain Buddhist
approaches interpretation in a plain and straightforward
way. We start with literal interpretations. We apply
literal interpretations to our practice and we see what
happens. If the result is a long-term reduction in greed,
hatred and delusion, then we take it that the literal
interpretations are sound. If the result is a long term
increase, or neither increase nor decrease in the
defilements, then we pursue more metaphorical
interpretations. And then, we test each interpretation in
the same way until a sound interpretation is found. In
other words, we go with what works in real life. We
consider real-life results to have priority over
theoretical assertions.
Now to undergo this process with integrity, we must be
willing to entertain the possibility that the Suttas are
wrong. It would be blind dogmatism to assert that the
Suttas are right simply because we believe in them. That
is, we must be willing to entertain the possibility that
the Suttas are an incorrect recording of the Buddhas
teaching, or that they are a correct recording, but the
Buddha was wrong.

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Fortunately for us all, my experience has been that the


Suttas are right, and that in most cases literal
interpretations are sufficient. Im not fully enlightened
by a long shot, but my levels of defilement are
definitely lower than they were before and they are
constantly and consistently going downwards. I take this
to be strong evidence that the Buddha was fully
enlightened and that the Suttas are a good enough
recording of what he said.
The five thematic undercurrents
When we take this straightforward approach to
interpreting the Suttas, we find that the five thematic
undercurrents to teachings in the Suttas that make them
particularly well suited to dealing with the problems of
the modern world:
1) concreteness and reviewability
2) integrity and consistency
3) renunciation and humility
4) deep cooperative community and
5) belief in kamma and rebirth
Lets go through each of these one by one.
Concreteness and reviewability
Plain Buddhism is characterised by concreteness and
reviewability. When we are concrete in our practice we
are ujupatipanno. That is, we are practicing
straightforwardedly.
We call a spade a spade. We are not mysterious, esoteric,
cryptic, academic or airy fairy. If something waddles
like a duck, quacks like a duck and moults like a duck,
we call it a duck.
Thus when reviewing practice, when trying to work out
whether we or others have made progress in practice, we
should follow the Buddhas instructions in the
Ambalatthikarahulovada Sutta, Vimamsaka Sutta and Canki
Sutta. That is, we should make common sense inferences
about progress in practice based upon careful
observations of concrete behaviour in body and speech.

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Thus, if someone is shouting and screaming, then it is


correct to infer that she is angry. If someone is ogling
food then it is correct to infer that she is lustful. It
is not possible to shout and scream without anger. It is
not possible to ogle food without lust. Plain Buddhists
do not go for crazy wisdom. That which is crazy is not
wise. And that which is wise is not crazy.
When we allow ourselves to measure and review concrete
behaviours like how truthfully, forgivingly, beautifully
and meaningfully a person speaks; like how
compassionately, modestly and faithfully a person
behaves; like the precision and depth of a persons
memory, then we are empowered to discern for ourselves
the difference between the foolish and the wise.
It is too often the case that foolish teachers get away
with misbehaviour and negligent practice by claiming that
concrete evidence of progress does not matter and thus
their behaviour cannot be reviewed. That is not what the
Buddha taught. The Buddha praised reflectiveness and
review as essential to the path.
In sum, a Dhamma that emphasises concreteness and
reviewbility empowers us in everyday life by arming us to
cut through all the propaganda and misdirection in the
world.
Integrity and consistency
Plain Buddhism is also characterised by integrity and
consistency. Plain Buddhism does not make excuses for
hypocrisy. A Plain Buddhist actually abandons the
unwholesome and does not merely talk about it. A Plain
Buddhist actually develops the wholesome and does not
merely talk about it.
A Plain Buddhist does not buy into excuse making like,
Its too hard to follow the Buddhas instructions in the
modern world, so we wont try. Or, Im just an ordinary
person and my kamma and paramis arent good enough, so I
wont try. Or, We need to wait for Metteya Buddha, so I
wont try.

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A Plain Buddhist holds onto the faith that the Buddha was
right when he said that if a person practices the Noble
Eightfold Way then it is impossible for her to not become
enlightened. As per the Dhammacakkapavatana Sutta, a
Plain Buddhist really believes that the Wheel of the
Dhamma cannot be stopped by anything in the universe
except our own negligence.
In sum, a Dhamma that emphasises integrity and
consistency empowers us in everday life by arming us to
cut through all the hypocrisy of the world.
Renunciation and contentment
Plain Buddhism is also characterised by renunciation and
contentment. Today, Buddhism is renown for being a
religion of wisdom and compassion. This, however, is a
misrepresentation of the Buddhas teaching. Buddhism is
not a religion of wisdom and compassion. It is a religion
of wisdom, compassion and renunciation.
We need not be surprised that renunciation has dropped
out of mainstream accounts. It is because we want our
cake and to eat it too. We want wisdom and compassion
without having to give anything up.
Just as Jesus original message of renunciation and
contentment has been corrupted so that now people say
that if you believe in Jesus, he will help you get rich.
So too the Buddhas original message of renunciation and
humility has been corrupted so that people meditate to
manifest Porsches and attract large real estate
portfolios.
It is neither wise nor compassionate to walk further down
the path of materialism, consumerism and sensual
indulgence for they lead to chronic mental and physical
illness, social breakdown and environmental ruin. Thus,
wisdom and compassion without renunciation, is fake
wisdom and compassion.
One cannot claim oneselves to be a follower of the Buddha
while walking in the opposite direction that he walked.
To walk in his direction, one should have the attitude

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that just enough is more than plenty. And furthermore,


whether one is a nun, monk, laywoman or layman, one
should have the aspiration to keep increasing our
skilfulness in body, speech and mind, so that one can
keep reducing one's material things. Buddhists should
keep giving up their material things until, this life or
the next, they have little more than three robes, a bowl
and, perhaps, an optional blanket just like the Buddha.
In sum, a Dhamma that emphasises renunciation and
contentment empowers us in everyday life by arming us to
cut through all the greedy materialism of the world.
Deep cooperative community
Plain Buddhism is also characterised by deep cooperative
community. Buddhism often gets a bad rap for being a
selfish religion, a teaching for the Me-Generation and
the I-Generation, a religion for the middle-class and
comfortably retired, a religion in which community does
not really matter.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In the Suttas
both the laypeople and the monastics are living
communally. The laypeople are living communally in oldfashioned clan-based villages, and the monastics are
living communally as bands of spiritual nomads. Indeed,
the Buddha did teach that we can and should live happily
together by sharing and caring for each other.
Of course, the Buddha also emphasised the importance of
seclusion. But he only did that after training his
followers how to live harmoniously and joyfully in
community, blending like milk and water. It must be
emphasised that it is impossible for a person who cannot
live harmoniously and joyfully in community to practice
true seclusion. Such a person is capable of practising
only selfishness.
A Dhamma that emphasises deep cooperative community
empowers us in everyday life by arming us to cut through
the selfish and fractious individualism of the world.
Belief in kamma and rebirth

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Plain Buddhism is also characterised by belief in kamma


and rebirth. According to the Suttas, denial of the
literal truth of kamma and rebirth is a form of Wrong
Worldview.
Is there really kamma and rebirth? I dont personally
know. I havent developed my practice to that level yet.
Suffice to say that I personally do believe in kamma and
rebirth and by holding to this belief as the very
foundation of my practice, I have been able to do many
difficult and wholesome things which I would not have
been able to do if not for this belief.
A worldview rooted in kamma and rebirth helps get life
into perspective. When we believe that this is more than
our billion-billionth rebirth, the highs and lows of life
do not shake us. Believing in kamma and rebirth also
makes us contemplate and take personal responsibility for
the long-term effects of our actions on others. Believing
kamma and rebirth is the truest foundation for the good
life because to do what is right in the long-term
requires that we have the resilience to sacrifice shortterm gains. Thus, it is the absence of this belief that
causes societies and cultures to slide down the slippery
slope of selfish and short-term thinking.
Now, while I agree that it is possible to be a resilient
and responsible person with deep foresight without
believing in kamma and rebirth, I think it is nonetheless
the case that a worldview based on kamma and rebirth will
take a person much further along the road of resilience,
responsibility and foresight than any other worldview.
In sum, a Dhamma that emphasises belief in kamma and
rebirth empowers us in everyday life by arming us to cut
through all the short-term and selfish thinking of the
world.
Conclusion
In summary, Plain Buddhism starts with the Pali Suttas.
We bring a plain, straight-forward and direct approach to
interpretating the Suttas. And then, we emphasise five

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thematic undercurrents to the Suttas that make their


teachings particularly well suited to dealing with the
problems of the modern world: that is, reviewability,
integrity and consistency, renunciation and humility,
deep cooperative community, and belief in kamma and
rebirth.
This is what I call Plain Buddhism.
Now that you know what Plain Buddhism is, over the coming
weeks we will build a Plain Buddhist Manifesto by
describing all the essentials of enlightened human
civilisation from a Plain Buddhist perspective. That is,
we shall cover the transformation of food and clothing,
shelter and medicine, family, community, education and
Buddhist monks and nuns.
And so, spiritual friends, fellows and companions,
welcome to this Plain Buddhist Manifesto, may it
illuminate the way in this time of great darkness.
And that is my Dhamma offering to you this evening. Let
us sit together in silence for a few moments to
contemplate what has been said. May all beings here,
whether seen or unseen rejoice in the goodness and merits
of this Dhamma talk, and may it lead to the long-term
happiness and harmony of all living beings.
Sadhu. Sadhu. Sadhu.

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A Plain Buddhist Manifesto (II):


Food and Clothing
Spiritual friends, fellows and companions, lend me your
ears once more.
Welcome back to talk number two out of eight in this
series entitled A Plain Buddhist Manifesto.
Review
To recap: last weeks talk was an overview. Therein, we
set out the overall context. That is, a world where
orthodox Buddhism has lost its way, and where global
civilisation is in terminal decline. And we proposed
Plain Buddhism as a powerful response to both of these
problems.
We set out the difference between Plain Buddhism and
orthodox Buddhism. Plain Buddhism starts with the Pali
Suttas. We bring to the Suttas a plain, common sense and
direct approach to interpretation. And then we emphasize
five thematic undercurrents to the Suttas that make their
teachings particularly well-suited to dealing with the
problems of the modern age: that is 1) concreteness and
reviewability, 2) integrity and consistency, 3)
renunciation and contentment, 4) deep cooperative
community, and 5) belief in kamma and rebirth.
Plain Buddhism becomes a Plain Buddhist Manifesto when we
describe what happens when we apply the principles of
Plain Buddhism to transforming the foundations of
civilisation: that is, food and clothing, shelter and
medicine, family, community, education and Buddhist monks
and nuns.
This Plain Buddhist Manifesto describes in everyday
terms, what the Buddha meant his teaching to be, a
concrete way to both make the world a better place and
attain full enlightenment in this very life, at the same
time.

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Tonight I will talk about food and clothing from a Plain


Buddhist perspective.
Meditation is not a panacea
To get the ball rolling, however, I
words about the importance of sila.
as a monk is to stop most Buddhists
much. Or, if they arent meditating
save them from feeling guilty about
are not doing as much meditation as
should be doing.

want to say a few


One of my life goals
from meditating so
much, at least, to
the fact that they
they think they

This is because most people arent ready for large


amounts of meditation. Thus, while I do teach the basics
of meditation after each Dhamma talk, I dont want to
give you the impression that meditation is the answer to
everything. A maximum of forty-five minutes in the
morning and night is more than enough, even for
experienced lay meditators.
Sila
Actually, in this world of corruption and decay, the more
important thing is sila. When a persons life is not well
purified through sila, large amounts of meditation
promote the growth of greed, hatred and delusion.
Sila means virtue, in a broad sense: the ethical
character of our everyday activities. So todays talk
will be about how to practice sila in relation to food
and clothing. By the end of this talk I want everybody
here to be looking at every morsel of food and every item
of clothing as an opportunity to practice sila.
Sila is so wonderful. I wish people would start sila
clubs instead of meditation centres. I wish people would
recommend sila as the cure to chronic mental and physical
illness. I wish people would turn to sila as the way to
win friends and influence people. If only the scientists
would make an effort to show the way sila shapes the
brain, wards off dementia and fights heart disease.

21

Alas, sila isnt sexy enough. It is not a magic pill or a


magic bullet or magic diet recommended by Oprah. It cant
be done for just ten minutes in the morning and ten
minutes at night. It calls us to undertake whole life
transformation. It takes effort to apply, and quite often
it means missing out on things that we really want.
But Im hoping that you, good friends, who have made the
effort to attend this Dhamma talk by a junior monk on a
Saturday night on a small farm at the edge of Maitland
arent fly-by-nighters. Im hoping that you are the types
who are willing to strive to transform your lives in
radical ways in line with the Buddhas teaching.
Food
And what better place to get started with that
transformation than the thing that most people spend the
bulk of their lives either preparing, consuming or
watching on reality tv: food.
Sariputta once said that all beings have this one thing
in common: All beings subsist on food. Food is so
fundamental to life and society, that if we get our
attitude and relationship to food right, then our whole
lives and societies are turned around towards creating a
fair and equitable world and towards the attainment of
Nibbana.
Not for taste
This is the standard passage from the Suttas about the
right attitude towards food.
Wisely reflecting, a monk takes almsfood neither for the
sake of amusement, intoxication nor beauty, but only for
the support and continuance of this body, for getting rid
of affliction and assisting the holy life. Considering
thus, In this way I will abandon old feelings of hunger,
and not give rise to new feelings of bloating. And thus,
I will abide blameless and in comfort.
This statement is aimed at monks and nuns. But it applies
to laypeople as well, in the sense that it describes an

22

ideal. It is good to start with ideals, even if they


cannot be reached immediately. Ideals give us a sense of
direction in life.
Ideally speaking, a person does not give any importance
whatsoever to the taste of food. The purpose of food is
nutrition, and the purpose of nutrition is the living of
the holy life. The holy life is a life that is harmless,
makes the world a better place and leads to Nibbana, all
at the same time.
Magandiya Sutta
The Buddha was a very radical man. He taught that food is
neither for amusement, intoxication or beauty as a part
of his wholesale rejection of all sensual pleasure as a
scorching fire. This is what the Buddha said in the
Magandiya Sutta:
Suppose, Mgandiya, there was a leper with sores and
blisters on his limbs, being devoured by worms,
scratching the scabs off the openings of his wounds with
his nails, cauterising his body over a burning charcoal
pit. Then his friends and companions, his kinsmen and
relatives, brought a physician to treat him. The
physician would make medicine for him, and by means of
that medicine the man would be cured of his leprosy and
would become well and happy, independent, master of
himself, able to go where he likes. Then two strong men
would seize him by both arms and drag him towards a
burning charcoal pit. What do you think, Mgandiya? Would
that man twist his body this way and that?

Yes, Master Gotama. Why is that? Because that fire is


indeed painful to touch, hot, and scorching.

What do you think, Mgandiya? Is it only now that that


fire is painful to touch, hot, and scorching, or
previously too was that fire painful to touch, hot, and
scorching?

23

Master Gotama, that fire is now painful to touch, hot,


and scorching, and previously too that fire was painful
to touch, hot, and scorching. For when that man was a
leper with sores and blisters on his limbs, being
devoured by worms, scratching the scabs off the openings
of his wounds with his nails, his faculties were
impaired; thus, though the fire was actually painful to
touch, he acquired a mistaken perception of it as
pleasant.

So too, Mgandiya, in the past sensual pleasures were


painful to touch, hot, and scorching; in the future
sensual pleasures will be painful to touch, hot, and
scorching; and now at present sensual pleasures are
painful to touch, hot, and scorching. But these beings
who are not free from lust for sensual pleasures, who are
devoured by craving for sensual pleasures, who burn with
fever for sensual pleasures, have faculties that are
impaired; thus, though sensual pleasures are actually
painful to touch, they acquire a mistaken perception of
them as pleasant.

Suppose, Mgandiya, there was a leper with sores and


blisters on his limbs, being devoured by worms,
scratching the scabs off the openings of his wounds with
his nails, cauterising his body over a burning charcoal
pit; the more he scratches the scabs and cauterises his
body, the fouler, more evil-smelling and more infected
the openings of his wounds would become, yet he would
find a certain measure of satisfaction and enjoyment in
scratching the openings of his wounds. So too, Mgandiya,
beings who are not free from lust for sensual pleasures,
who are devoured by craving for sensual pleasures, who
burn with fever for sensual pleasures, still indulge in
sensual pleasures; the more such beings indulge in
sensual pleasures, the more their craving for sensual
pleasures increases and the more they are burned by their
fever for sensual pleasures, yet they find a certain
measure of satisfaction and enjoyment in dependence on
the five cords of sensual pleasure.

24

This passage makes it clear that, actually, sensual


pleasures are not good for us. Thus one of the main ways
we can mitigate the damage done to us by sensual
pleasures is to cultivate a preference for plain
flavours. The good life is not lived by feasting like a
king, but by eating like a peasant.
Plain food
This brings us to what I call plain food. Plain food
emphasises the joys of plainness and the happiness of
ethics. We should not think that plain food is a form of
self-mortification or self-deprivation. Actually, if we
buy real foods, that is, produce that is fresh, local and
organic, every food has its own subtle flavour. These
subtle flavours are drowned out when we add lots of
herbs, spices, sugar and salt. We lose our appreciation
of subtlety and refinement, and our minds incline towards
vulgarity.
To test the validity of this teaching, I invite you to
conduct this experiment. Sometime in the next week,
please cook yourself a very plain meal consisting of
fresh local and organic ingredients. Make, perhaps, a
garden salad, lightly steamed vegetables, boiled split
peas, pan fried onions and potatoes, and steamed brown
rice. Drizzle all of the above with olive oil and season
with salt and pepper. Go to a quiet place, and chant this
passage from the Suttas:
We soak the east with a heart filled with appreciation,
so too the south, so too the west, so too the north. So
above, below, around and everywhere, to all as to
ourselves we soak the whole wide world with a heart
filled with appreciation: abundant, expanded, without
judgment, without anger, without hate.
Eat quietly, savouring the experience like a connoisseur
-- a connoisseur of plain flavours and gratitude. That
is, taste the plain flavours in that meal with a heart
full of appreciation.

25

By the end of the meal you will feel satisfied and


peaceful in both body and mind. If you master the art of
creating this feeling then your digestion will improve.
With improvement in your digestion your overall health
and resilience will also improve.
Plain eating environments
In this exercise we eat alone. However, one foundation of
social unity is the act of eating peacefully together
with others. So if we want to create peaceful and
resilient families and communities, we also need to eat
together with others in plain eating environments.
Plain eating environments are environments that are
conducive to families and communities eating together
either in silence or with a modicum of peaceful and
civilised conversation, something I like to call serene
conviviality.
If you live in a quiet place, then dont play any music
while preparing or eating food. If you live in a city
with lots of rowdy traffic and activity, play some
soothing music with no lyrics. Ban all computers,
televisions, DVD players, mobile phones and mp3 players
from the dining room and kitchen. In other words,
creating plain eating environments involves getting rid
of anything that distracts human beings from engaging
peacefully and fully with each other.
Plain eating habits
Ideally, Plain Buddhist families and communities should
also create a peaceful context for eating by cultivating
plain eating habits. Actually, this is just a different
way of saying that we should revive old-fashioned meal
traditions.
1) Families and communities should quietly and
peacefully cooperate with the preparation of meals.
2) We should always sit down to eat.
3) Families and communities should share at least one
meal per day together at a set table.

26

4) Before eating, families and communities should enact


some kind of grace, for example, Plain Buddhists
might chant the earlier passage on appreciation.
5) Families and communities should eat gracefully,
adhering to the basic rules of table manners and
avoiding conversation about upsetting or vulgar
matters.
6) We should ask to be excused before we leave the
table.
7) Families and communities should quietly and
peacefully cooperate to clear up and wash dishes with
their own hands.
Parenting with moral conviction
If youre a parent with young children, youre probably
thinking that this monk knows nothing about children
today and this is never going to happen. But nothing
could be further from the truth. This monk understands
how children think and behave much better than most
parents.
Getting children to do anything is hard. And the hard
becomes the impossible when parents dont have moral
confidence in their own instructions. The loss of moral
confidence due to the modern-cult of personalpreference is the number one cause of parents becoming
slaves to their children.
What is moral confidence? It is the confidence that comes
with knowing that something is good in the long-term even
though other people dont see it or like it. We need to
get out of the habit of thinking that things are good
simply because people have a personal preference for
them. This is common sense. That is, out of lack of
wisdom, people tend to like things that are bad for them
in the long term.
Because children, and many adults are incapable of
clearly perceiving long-term outcomes, it is important
for those who can, to have the moral confidence to do a
bit prescriptive leadership. That is one of the jobs of
well-trained Buddhist monks who have enough wisdom and

27

experience to know how behaviour plays out in the longterm.


Thus, my recommendation to the parents of young children
here is this. If you are persuaded that Plain Buddhism is
good, just tell your kids that this is how things are
from now on, and peacefully wear the whining and the
whinging without budging in your resolution. Tell them
that these are the concrete rules of family life that
everyone in the family must live by. Do it with peace and
unflagging moral confidence rooted in your faith in the
Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. Then rinse, repeat and hold
the line.
Trust me. If you keep it up, you will be pleasantly
surprised by the result. Your family life will have a
centre. And that centre will be composed of the happy
memories of thousands of meals eaten together in peace
and contentment. Your family life will have a refuge. No
matter what happens elsewhere, you will all know that
your daily family meal will be a time of peace, sharing
and love.
Ethical food
So the first aspect of plain food is the joy of
plainness. The second aspect is the happiness of ethics.
There are many dimensions to the ethics of food. Tonight
I will focus upon being an ethical consumer. Ethical
consumption covers principles two, three and four of
plain food.
Buy organic
So principle number two of plain food is: buy fresh local
and organic.
Basically, we can split all food into two types:
industrial and organic. Industrial farming depletes
soils, destroys ecosystems, wastes water, pumps toxic
chemicals into our food-systems, takes away jobs, and put
us all at the mercy of transnational food companies. And
to top it all off, the food produced from industrial
farming is nutritionally deficient.

28

In a word, industrial farming is very good at making


money for rich people and very bad at supporting
everybody else.
Organic farming, done properly, regenerates soils, builds
ecosystems, conserves water, goes without toxic
chemicals, provides work and brings resilience to local
communities.
In a world of food insecurity due to ecological and
economic decline, organic farming is our greatest hope.
We need to support it now buy choosing to buy organic
even though it is more expensive. Money is energy. It has
no inherent value. It is only valuable if we direct it
towards useful things.
At the baseline of life, there is nothing more important
than having proper food to eat made in ways that ensure
that future generations will also have proper food to
eat. To keep on buying industrial produce is to poison
ourselves and future generations simply for the sake of
saving a few bucks. It makes no sense. Let us change our
ways
And for similar reasons, that is, to build resilience
into the natural environment and our local economies, we
should also buy fresh. That is we should buy fresh food
instead of processed foods. And then we should also buy
local. That is we should buy food made locally instead of
food made internationally.
Stop buying meat
Now, principle number three of plain food is: be as
vegetarian as possible given health constraints
This is the bit when I talk about one of the oldest
controversies in Buddhism: should Buddhists be
vegetarians? For those who dont already know, the reason
for the controversy is that the Buddhas evil cousin,
Devadatta, a man so evil that he attempted to assassinate
the Buddha three times, advocated that the Buddha make it
compulsory that all monks be vegetarian, and the Buddha
refused.

29

The resolution to the problem is as simple and concrete


as this. The Buddha did not make it compulsory for anyone
to be a vegetarian, because everyone has a different
condition of health, but given that he taught the
importance of acting with compassion towards all living
beings, and that he taught that trading in meat is a form
of wrong livelihood, Buddhists should make the effort to
be as vegetarian as possible given health constraints.
The reality is that quite a lot of people dont need to
eat meat at all to be healthy and strong, and no one
needs to eat large quantities of meat to be healthy and
strong. The reality is that the only reason we eat large
amounts of meat is because we like the taste or because
we like having big muscles or because weve been hooked
into a fad-diet.
According to the law of kamma and rebirth, weve all been
animals before and may well become animals in the future.
The Buddha did not treat animals as mere machines that
human beings have the right to exploit. Animals are
living beings who suffer and do not wish to suffer just
as we suffer and do not wish to suffer. And just as we
would not have them do us harm, we should not do them
harm. Especially not for reasons as frivolous as lust for
taste, personal vanity and dietary fashion.
Meat Industry
The real issue here, however, isnt really vegetarianism,
the real issue is the meat industry. The Buddha didnt
make vegetarianism compulsory, but he did in no uncertain
terms say that trading in meat is wrong.
So, in an ideal Buddhist civilisation, how would the
allowance for meat-eating go together with the complete
disappearance of the meat industry? Simple. Meat would
come from wild or domesticated animals that have lived
well and died of natural causes. The main source would
come from domesticated animals employed for farm work,
like horses, who have died of old age. Meat in such a
civilisation would be scarce (and very chewy), but it
would be available. Furthermore, it would not be sold for

30

money or bartered for other goods, but simply given to


those in need of it for health reasons.
Once meat becomes an item of trade of any sort, then
eventually animals become a mere commodity in the eyes of
human beings. Their suffering is ignored in pursuit of
profit. When this way of thinking takes its natural
course, we set up the factory farms of today.
Factory farms
Factory farms, in essence, are enormous torture chambers
wherein countless animals are imprisoned, tortured and
murdered for the sake of human greed for meat and money.
The largest slaughterhouse in the world, operated in the
US, can butcher over 32,000 pigs a day. And in the US
alone, 270 chickens are slain every second or about 8.5
billion chickens a year. And thats in the US alone. And
thats what happens in one year. Human civilisation has a
lot of blood on its hands.
But we should be as vegetarian as possible not only out
of compassion for animals, but out of compassion for
those employed by the meat industry. Its really awful
kamma to be imprisoning, torturing and murdering living
beings at all, let alone on a daily basis as a form of
livelihood. This kamma leads to serious consequences
after death. It leads to the animal realm, the ghostly
realm, even to hell.
Furthermore, this brings great suffering in this very
life. Imprisoning, torturing and murdering living beings
drives the mind insane. Abattoir work is degrading and
repetitive. It exhausts workers physically, emotionally
and spiritually. When one knows how gruesome the work is
it makes sense to find out that many serial killers were
former abattoir workers.
Buddhists claim to have compassion for the suffering of
living beings. Buddhists should be people of integrity.
We should not just talk about compassion. So let us stop
buying meat unless we really need it and keep encouraging
others to do the same. If do need it, lets buy humane

31

organic meat. This way we need not be complicit in


oppression, torture and mass murder, save the lives of
countless animals, and provide peaceful alternative
occupations for many human beings as well.

The fifth precept


Now, our discussion on plain food would not be complete
without a reminder of the importance of the fifth
precept. That is, I undertake the training precept to
abstain from taking alcohol and intoxicants.
It has become very common for Buddhists to say that
because modern society considers drinking alcohol in
moderation to be acceptable, the fifth precept can be
relaxed. The usual justification is that the Buddha
didnt have access to modern research on the benefits of
tannins in red wines and so on and so forth.
I retort that we are talking about a man who could see
whole universes expand and collapse over and over and
over again. Im quite certain that he knew that alcohol
can be beneficial in certain circumstances.
My view is that the Buddha chose to lay down the fifth
precept because whatever the benefits of drinking alcohol
in moderation, the danger that moderate drinking might
turn into alcohol abuse is too great. Everyone thinks
that alcoholism will never happen to them. But alcoholism
is widespread. It rips holes through individual lives,
families and societies. The benefits of drinking alcohol
are so pathetic and so easily gained in other ways, its
just not worth the risk.
While I think it would be foolish to force people to
abstain from alcohol as a matter of law, I think that
those who have faith in the Buddha should make every
effort they can to completely abstain from alcohol out of
compassion for society. That is, Buddhists should be
leading examples of how to live peaceful and happy lives
without needing to resort to the use of alcohol.

32

Furthermore, we should have compassion for ourselves. It


is impossible to properly practise the Buddhas teaching
if one drinks alcohol. Conversely, one who properly
practises the Buddhas teaching gains so much peace,
happiness and social confidence, that he neither needs
nor wants to drink alcohol.
Plain clothing
Now lets move onto plain clothing. This is the standard
passage from the Suttas about the right attitude towards
clothing:
Wisely reflecting a monk uses the robes only for
protection from the heat, for protection from the cold,
for protection from contact with mosquitoes, march flies
and creeping things, and only for the concealment of the
private parts.
So the Buddhas instruction here is that we wear clothes
for protection from the elements and as a social grace,
not for the sake of vanity. Once again, this statement is
directed towards monks and nuns, so it describes an ideal
attitude. Nonetheless, lay people can aim for and move
towards that ideal gradually.
Life uniform
In practice, monks and nuns fulfil this instruction from
the Buddha by wearing a life-uniform. That is, a set of
clothing that leaves them looking more or less the same
day after day.
The robes are a monks life-uniform. In my case, I wear
three pieces of cloth, each of which is six by nine spans
of my own hands. This is the uniform prescribed by the
Buddha in the Bhikkhu Patimokkha, the ancient monks
rules.
The idea I'm suggesting here is that a Plain Buddhist
layperson wears a life-uniform of her own personal
choosing. One common one Ive seen laypeople adopt is
blue jeans and a white top. A layperson might have a
summer uniform, a winter uniform and a spring and autumn

33

uniform. Whatever the case, the purpose is to minimalise


the amount of clothes we buy and retain, and to
completely remove the impulse to keep up with fashion.
A life uniform needs to be composed of high quality
materials in a classic style. Life uniforms need to age
well and look like they have gained character when they
are repaired. Plainness should not slide into shabbiness.
Plainness should always be dignified.
Another aspect of plain and dignified clothing is making
an effort to not incite lust in the minds of others.
Plain Buddhists, whether they are male or female, should
make an effort to dress in a way that inspires thoughts
of purity and spirituality. We should dress in a way that
points towards the beauty of a noble mind, not in a way
that points towards the vulgarities of the body.
Today there are plenty of second-hand clothes that meet
these requirements which are just waiting for owners at
your local op-shops. It is important to buy second-hand
so that the mountains of second-hand clothes out there do
not simply go to waste in this already resource depleted
world.
And just as a Plain Buddhist takes delight in plain food,
she also takes delight in looking plain. Again, the key
here is inclining the mind towards the appreciation of
subtlety. When our minds are exposed to all the
sensuality and proliferation of the fashion industry, it
becomes clumsy and unable to detect subtle changes. For
example, who would even suspect that these simple monks
robes, these rectangular pieces of cloth can be worn in
at least 28 different ways.
Now, a Plain Buddhist never fears that they might lose
their individuality by wearing a life-uniform. When the
mind inclines towards subtlety, a person is able to
indicate and assert her individuality without needing to
stand out from the crowd. For example, I essentially wear
the same thing as other monks, and if I were to walk into
a crowd of monks, it would be difficult for the untrained

34

eye to pick us out, but to my eyes monks look completely


different to each other.
Boycotting the fashion industry
A Plain Buddhist also gains happiness at the
their clothing is ethical: that is, they are
participating in a fashion industry which is
wasteful of the earths resources, generates
amounts of toxic chemicals and which employs
degrading and oppressive conditions.

thought that
not
highly
large
people in

Talking point
Another advantage of wearing a life uniform is that it
becomes a talking point that helps us meet people and
gives us opportunities to share the Buddhas teaching.
Plain Buddhists should be known throughout general
society as people who are willing to wear their religion
on their sleeve and who are able to speak confidently and
peacefully about why.
Lighthouses
And, last but not least, if a wisely practising Plain
Buddhist layperson wants to upgrade his practice in
relation to plain clothing, he can do what the deeply
faithful lay Buddhists in the Buddhas day did: wear a
life-uniform composed of all white clothing, thus
becoming a symbol of light, hope and purity wherever he
goes. A living, breathing stupa.
Summary
In summary, Plain Buddhist food and clothing consists of
food and clothing that emphasises the joy of plainness
and the happiness of virtue.
A Plain Buddhist does not eat for amusement, intoxication
or beauty but only for nutrition to sustain her practice.
She eats healthy food with plain flavours, in plain
eating environments with plain eating habits. She also
chooses to buy food that is fresh, local and organic. She
is as vegetarian as she can be given health constraints.

35

And she abstains completely from taking alcohol and


intoxicants.
A Plain Buddhist does not wear clothes for vanity, but
for protection from the elements, and as a social grace.
Ideally, he chooses a life-uniform for himself which is
long-lasting, high quality, dignified, second-hand and
which maintains individuality in subtle ways. He delights
in his non-participation in the highly unethical fashion
industry and the opportunities to share the Buddhas
teaching set up by his unusual clothing habits. He may
even choose to dress in white all the time.
Of course, there are many more things that could said
about food and clothing from a Plain Buddhist
perspective, like the importance of Permaculture,
fermentation, composting, humanuring, exploring the
viability of indigenous plant varieties as crops, using
hemp and other alternative natural fabrics, growing our
own food and making our own clothes and so on and so
forth. But I trust that I have said enough to set you on
new journeys. And, indeed, courses at Purple Pear are an
excellent place to start.
Conclusion
In conclusion, I want you to think about the sila of food
and clothing like this: our lives are made up of the
choices that we make. Sometimes the choices we make are
small. Sometimes they are big. But they all matter.
Particularly the small ones that we make over and over
and over again. The choices we make in relation to our
food and clothing belong to this category. Please use
those choices. Use them to make the world a better place.
Use them to pave the path that leads to Nibbana.
And that is my Dhamma offering to you this evening. Let
us sit together for a few moments in silence to
contemplate what has been said. May all beings here seen
and unseen celebrate in the goodness and merits of this
Dhamma talk, and may it lead to the long term happiness
and welfare of all living beings.

36

Sadhu. Sadhu. Sadhu.

37

Plain Buddhist Manifesto (III):


Shelter and Medicine
Welcome
Spiritual friends, fellows and companions. Lend me your
ears once more.
Welcome to talk number three out of a series of eight
entitled A Plain Buddhist Manifesto.
Review
To recap: Talk number one was an overview. Therein, we
set out the overall context. That is, a world where
orthodox Buddhism has lost its way, and where global
civilisation is in terminal decline. And we proposed
plain Buddhism as a powerful response to both of these
problems.
We set out the difference between plain Buddhism and
orthodox Buddhism. Plain Buddhism starts with the Pali
suttas. We bring to the suttas a plain, common sense and
direct approach to interpretation. And then we emphasize
five thematic undercurrents to the suttas that make their
teachings particularly well-suited to dealing with the
problems of the modern age: that is 1) concreteness and
reviewability, 2) integrity and consistency, 3)
renunciation and contentment, 4) deep cooperative
community, and 5) belief in kamma and rebirth.
Plain Buddhism becomes a Plain Buddhist Manifesto when we
describe what happens when we apply the principles of
plain Buddhism to transforming the foundations of
civilisation: that is, food and clothing, shelter and
medicine, family, community, education and Buddhist monks
and nuns.
In talk number two we spoke about a plain Buddhist
approach to food and clothing. We said that the Buddha
taught that food is not for taste but for nutrition. The
four principles of plain food are: 1) eat food with plain
flavours in plain eating environments with plain eating

38

habits, 2) eat food that is fresh, local and organic, 3)


be as vegetarian as possible given health constraints and
4) abstain from alcohol and intoxicants.
We said that the Buddha taught that clothing is to be
worn for protection from the elements and as a social
grace, not for vanity. The four principles of plain
clothing are: 1) develop and wear your own life uniform,
2) wear clothing that is high quality, long-lasting,
dignified and ideally second hand to avoid getting
involved with fashion, 3) take advantage of the
opportunities to share the Dhamma created by your plain
clothing, and 4) move towards a life uniform composed of
all white clothing.
Now, tonights talk shall be about a plain Buddhist
approach to shelter and medicine.
Preface: sensual pleasures are bad
Food, clothing, shelter and medicine are known as the
four requisites. They are the four material things that
are necessary to the good life. However, we live in a
pathologically materialistic world where over-consumption
and consumer culture are destroying individual lives,
societies and the natural environment. Clearly, when we
have the wrong attitude toward the four requisites and
use them in the wrong way, then great suffering is the
result.
To live well, we need to be established in the right
attitude towards material things. Simply put, although
mainstream culture teaches that more and bigger is
better, the Buddha taught that small is beautiful and
less is more. Buddhism is a teaching of renunciation
and contentment.
In the suttas, the term material things is more or less
synonymous with the term sensual pleasures. Last week
we introduced with the Magandiya Sutta the idea that all
sensual pleasures are actually painful and addictive.
Over the last two thousand years, this teaching has been
watered down. Today, most people think that the Buddha

39

taught that the problem is not in sensual pleasures


themselves but in attachment to sensual pleasures only.
Thus, the unwise say that sensual pleasures are like a
drink that is pleasurable and non-toxic but highly
addictive. They say, drinking such a drink is
unproblematic so long as one does not become addicted.
I would like to correct this misrepresentation of the
Buddha. According to the suttas, the problem is both in
sensual pleasures themselves and in attachment to sensual
pleasures. Thus, the wise would say that sensual
pleasures are like a drink that is painful and toxic and
highly addictive. Drinking such a drink is problematic
even if one does not become addicted.
The Magandiya Sutta emphasises how sensual pleasures are
actually painful and addictive. And now, in the Shorter
Sutta on the Mass of Suffering, the Buddha points towards
the wider, long-term harmful consequences that come with
the pursuit of sensual pleasures:
And, what, monks, is the danger in the case of sensual
pleasures? Here, monks, on account of the craft by which
a clansman makes a living whether checking or
accounting or calculating or farming or trading or
husbandry or archery or the royal service, or whatever
craft it may be he has to face cold, he has to face
heat, he is injured by contact with gadflies, mosquitoes,
wind, sun, and creeping things; he risks death by hunger
and thirst. Now this is a danger in the case of sensual
pleasures, a mass of suffering in this very life, having
sensual pleasures as its cause, sensual pleasures as its
source, sensual pleasures as its basis, the cause being
simply sensual pleasures.
If no property comes to the clansman while he works and
strives and makes an effort thus, he sorrows, grieves,
and laments, he weeps beating his breast and becomes
distraught crying: My work is in vain, my effort is
fruitless! Now this too is a danger in the case of
sensual pleasures, a mass of suffering in this very life,
having sensual pleasures as its cause, sensual pleasures

40

as its source, sensual pleasures as its basis, the cause


being simply sensual pleasures.
If property comes to the clansman while he works and
strives and makes an effort thus, he experiences pain and
grief in protecting it: How shall neither kings nor
thieves make off with my property, nor fire burn it, nor
water sweep it away, nor hateful heirs make off with it?
And as he guards and protects his property, kings or
thieves make off with it, or fire burns it, or water
sweeps it away, or hateful heirs make off with it. And he
sorrows, grieves, and laments, he weeps beating his
breast and becomes distraught, crying: What I had I have
no longer! Now this too is a danger in the case of
sensual pleasures, a mass of suffering in this very life,
having sensual pleasures as its cause, sensual pleasures
as its source, sensual pleasures as its basis, the cause
being simply sensual pleasures.
Again, with sensual pleasures as the cause, sensual
pleasures as the source, sensual pleasures as the basis,
the cause being simply sensual pleasures, kings quarrel
with kings, nobles with nobles, Brahmins with Brahmins,
householders with householders, mother quarrels with son,
son with mother, father with son, son with father,
brother quarrels with brother, brother with sister,
sister with brother, friend with friend. And here in
their quarrels, brawls and disputes they attack each
other with fists, clods, stick, or knives, whereby they
incur death or deadly suffering. Now this too is a danger
in the case of sensual pleasures, a mass of suffering in
this very life, having sensual pleasures as its cause,
sensual pleasures as its source, sensual pleasures as its
basis, the cause being simply sensual pleasures.
Again, with sensual pleasures as the cause, sensual
pleasures as the source, sensual pleasures as the basis,
the cause being simply sensual pleasures, men take swords
and shields and buckle on bows and quivers, and they
charge into battle massed in double array with arrows and
spears flying and swords flashing; and there they are
wounded by arrows and spears, and their heads are cut off

41

by swords, whereby they incur death or deadly suffering.


Now this too is a danger in the case of sensual
pleasures, a mass of suffering in this very life, having
sensual pleasures as its cause, sensual pleasures as its
source, sensual pleasures as its basis, the cause being
simply sensual pleasures.
Again, with sensual pleasures as the cause, sensual
pleasures as the source, sensual pleasures as the basis,
the cause being simply sensual pleasures, men take swords
and shields and buckle on bows and quivers, and they
charge slippery bastions, with arrows and spears flying
and swords flashing; and there they are wounded by arrows
and spears and splashed with boiling liquids and crushed
under heavy weights, and their heads are cut off by
swords, whereby they incur death or deadly suffering. Now
this too is a danger in the case of sensual pleasures, a
mass of suffering in this very life, having sensual
pleasures as its cause, sensual pleasures as its source,
sensual pleasures as its basis, the cause being simply
sensual pleasures.
Again, with sensual pleasures as the cause, sensual
pleasures as the source, sensual pleasures as the basis,
the cause being simply sensual pleasures, men break into
houses, plunder wealth, commit burglary, ambush highways,
seduce others wives, and when they are caught, kings
have many kinds of torture inflicted on them. The kings
have them flogged with whips, beaten with canes, beaten
with clubs, they have their hands cut off, their feet cut
off, their hands and feet cut off, their ears cut off,
their noses cut off, their ears and noses cut off ... and
they have them splashed with boiling oil, and they have
them thrown to be devoured by dogs, and they have them
impaled alive on stakes, and they have their heads cut
off with swords whereby they incur death or deathly
suffering. Now this too is a danger in the case of
sensual pleasures, a mass of suffering in this very life,
having sensual pleasures as its cause, sensual pleasures
as its source, sensual pleasures as its basis, the cause
being simply sensual pleasures.

42

Again, with sensual pleasures as the cause, sensual


pleasures as the source, sensual pleasures as the basis,
the cause being simply sensual pleasures, people indulge
in misconduct of body, speech, and mind. Having done so,
on the dissolution of the body, after death, they
reappear in states of deprivation, in an unhappy
destination, in perdition, even in hell. Now this too is
a danger in the case of sensual pleasures, a mass of
suffering in the next life, having sensual pleasures as
its cause, sensual pleasures as its source, sensual
pleasures as its basis, the cause being simply sensual
pleasures.
In the suttas, the Buddha really knows how to make a
point. It all comes down to this. There is much danger to
be found in the pursuit of sensual pleasures.
Thus when attempting to orient our relationship towards
food, clothing, shelter and medicine, the general
principle is that because sensual pleasures are painful
here and now, and lead to further pain in the future, and
because they are highly addictive, we should use them
only to the minimal extent necessary to maintain the holy
life: that is, a life that is harmless, makes the world a
better place, and which leads to full enlightenment, all
at the same time.
Levels of practice
This does not mean, however, that the Buddha thought that
everybody should just give up all material things now and
become homeless Buddhist monks and nuns. The true
position is slightly more nuanced. That is, the Buddha
thought that each individual should, at her own pace,
give up her material things in a gradual way so that
eventually, in this life or in a future life, she may
become a Buddhist monk or nun.
According to the Greater Sutta on Vacchagotta there are
three levels of practice. 1) the level of a layperson
dressed in white enjoying sensual pleasure; 2) the level
of a layperson dressed in white leading a life of
renunciation of sensual pleasure, but still with a home;

43

and 3) the level of Buddhist monk or nun living a life of


renunciation of sensual pleasures while homelessly
wandering place to place.
Renunciation
Unless we are already fully enlightened, we can all do
more to move in the direction of renunciation. In an
extravagantly wealthy country like Australia, whatever we
have is already enough, and we need to train ourselves to
live with less -- less material things, that is, but with
more happiness. Simplifying our material things means we
get more time to develop the things that really count in
life, like our relationship with our families, our
communities, our natural environments and our Dhamma.
So if one claims to be followers of the Buddha, one needs
to ask oneself what direction am I going? After all, it
is dishonest to chase after more money, status, gain,
fame, big houses, share portfolios, investment properties
and international luxury cruises and at the same time
call oneself a follower of the Buddha.
But, even if one is not a follower of the Buddha, it is
still wrong to pursue these things because they do not
lead to long-term happiness for ourselves, nor for
others. It is all a marketing trick. Just because models
and actors on television look glamorous and happy from
having material things and sensual pleasures, doesnt
mean theyre actually happy. Thats perhaps the most
disturbing thing of all. 1% of the worlds population
owns 50% of the wealth, and yet even that 1% arent
happy.
Its all a part of Maras script, you see. Sensual
pleasures can only ever lead to short-term happiness and
long-term suffering whether in the form of personal
lamentation, out-and-out warfare between nations or a
thousand years in hell.
The ethos of renunciation and simple living can be
summarised by the motto: Just enough is more than
plenty. Furthermore, what is just enough goes downward

44

as we become wiser and stronger through the practice of


the Dhamma.
Plain shelter
We need to keep all of this in mind as we move onto
talking about plain shelter. This is because, the sad
truth is that John Howard was right when he said that
Australians are aspirational. And sadly, the
aspirations of middle-class Australians revolve around
real-estate, particularly in Sydney.
This is what the Buddha taught about the right attitude
to shelter.
Wisely reflecting, a monk uses a shelter only for
protection from the heat, for protection from the cold,
for protection from contact with mosquitoes, march flies,
wind, sun and creeping things, and only for warding off
the perils of climate and simply for seclusion.
In the Buddhas view, shelter is only for protection from
the elements and for seclusion. We note that the Buddha
did not think that shelter is for the sake of keeping up
with the Joneses, making rental income, entering into
leveraged investments or for getting tax breaks through
negative gearing.
Wrong View re shelter
It is because we have mistaken the purpose of shelter
that young people today can only afford to buy their own
home if they are willing to take on twenty or thirty year
home-loans, which are actually decades of indentured
servitude to big banks. Wrong attitudes towards shelter
have perversely inflated the value of real-estate, so
that the rich can skim more and more money off ordinary
people who are simply looking for a place to live and
raise their families. This has widened the gap between
the rich and the poor to perverse and unsustainable
levels. It has also led to the massive destruction of
natural habitat for the construction of instant suburbs
for young families fleeing unaffordable cities.

45

Why do we put up with it? Because we have been told that


there is no alternative. We have been told that greed is
an inextricable part of human nature and that it is good
to run our economies and societies based on the idea that
only greed can motivate people to properly produce and
consume.
But that story is just a part of Maras web as well. We
can be free if we realise that the most important factor
holding this whole Ponzi scheme together is the fact that
we foolishly and sheeplike, willingly believe the lies,
and march on to our own dooms.
We need not believe the lies anymore. There are
alternatives. There are wise people out there who are
already proving that the alternatives are possible and
good.
The alternatives
Plain shelter is shelter that is sufficient for
protection from the elements and seclusion. For a welltrained monk, a cleft in a rocky hill, enough to keep the
rain off the knees while seated cross-legged is enough.
An empty garage or veranda made available by kind lay
friends is pure luxury.
Of course, for families caring for young children, the
sick and the elderly, more comfortable conditions are
necessary. But we should not go too far. Children do not
need McMansions to grow up strong. The sick do not need
waterfront views to recover from illness. And the elderly
do not need five star resorts to age with grace.
What people need, more than anything else, to dwell
happily at home is peaceful and harmonious family and
community life. Whereas before we had small houses but
healthy hearts. Now we have big houses and heart-attacks.
I wont say too much in this talk, because in talks
numbers four and five I will focus on how to create
peaceful and harmonious families and communities. Suffice
to say for now, when we do live in harmony with others,
many alternatives appear.

46

Live with your parents


The first principle of plain shelter is to create multigenerational households by living with parents. Its so
obvious, but most people dont even consider it because
they dont get along with their parents.
But, let us assume for now that it is possible to get
along with Mum and Dad and live with them, even when
married with children. Then, my recommendation here is to
turn the family home into a clan compound. If you make
use of existing space wisely -- especially by
decluttering -- and if need be, by building extensions
modestly, then you will soon find yourself with a secure
roof over your head and with a solid network of family
support both financially and emotionally.
I should pause here to note that its important to avoid
living with parents as an adult simply out of laziness. A
person living with parents should work just as hard as
any other person. A Buddhist should work even harder,
because the Buddhas teaching is all about hard work and
being a creative contributor to family and society.
The point is rather that living with parents frees us to
do meaningful work, even if that work does not pull in a
large income. We shouldnt have to do unmeaningful work
just to keep up with mortgage repayments.
Small houses
The second principle of plain shelter is live in a small
home. Many people have already realised the silliness of
our enormous suburban fortresses, and they comprise a
movement known as the tiny home movement. This movement
is predicated on the idea that ones shelter isnt really
where one lives. The land is where one lives, but a
shelter is just a place one goes to get out of the rain
and to sleep with a sense of security.
After all, we dont have to be inside a big house to
cook, eat, study, make art, socialise or contemplate.
Even if its a bit chilly, these things can be done just
as comfortably outside next to a camp-fire or in a simple

47

a shed after weve put on a woollen jumper. We can be


content to incorporate a few basic functions into a small
house, the kind of basics that make real inroads into the
discomforts of life, like running water, strong
insulation and a woodstove.
There are at least six advantages to having a small
house, 1) its much cheaper than building a McMansion; 2)
maintenance costs are low; 3) you won't accumulate
clutter; 4) youll spend more time outside; 5) you will
get to know your family; 6) you won't worry about whether
your house will be taken by fire, flood or unloved heirs.
Recycled and natural materials
The third principle of plain shelter is that we should
build with recycled and natural materials.
In this world of consumer extravagance and wastage, its
amazing what excellent building materials a wise person
can find at the local tip. And then, there are thousands
of second-hand shipping containers out their just waiting
to be converted into tiny homes.
This may seem undignified to some, but this advice is in
line with what the Buddha taught in the Kula Sutta, the
Sutta on Family. There he told Anathapindika that
families who want to maintain their wealth should
retrieve what is lost and repair what is old. In other
words, the Buddha may well have been the first person to
advocate recycling as a financial strategy.
We should also build using natural building materials
like mudbrick, adobe, rammed earth and hay bales because
these materials are simply superior, cheaper, more
accessible and kind to the environment. But the best part
is that shelters built of natural materials create deep
connections between people and the land. This is the
opposite effect to most ordinary houses, which alienate
human beings from the natural world outside.
Natural materials trump synthetic materials in every way
but one: synthetic materials are better at making cheap

48

and dirty architecture like ugly apartment blocks,


soulless skyscrapers and instant suburbs.
Intentional communities
The fourth principle of plain shelter is to move to
intentional communities. If we live in village
environments where people share resources with each
other, then we dont need to incorporate so many
functions into our own shelters, even if were partial to
creature comforts. And, of course, by buying or leasing
in communal arrangements, land becomes much more
affordable.
Before we object with too much skepticism, we should keep
in mind that intentional communities of today are much
more sobre and mature affairs than those of the flower
power era. Weve learned a lot from the mistakes of the
past. Theres plenty more to learn, but we can't let fear
of failure hold us back. In a world of increasing
economic and ecological fragility, intentionally building
village environments is the future of humanity.
In talk number eight I will describe our plan to help lay
people start Plain Buddhist Permaculture Villages in the
Hunter Valley. So please mark out your calendar for that
talk.
Plain medicine
Now lets move onto plain medicine.
This is what the Buddha taught about the proper attitude
to medicine.
Wisely reflecting a monk uses medicinal preparations for
the sake of sickness, only for protection from arisen
feelings of affliction, for the maximisation of good
health.
As this description comes inside the context of the four
material requisites, here, the Buddha is really only
talking about physical medicines. That is, things we
swallow, put on our skin. There are many other kinds of

49

medicines, medical procedures and medical treatments out


there, but a full discussion of a plain Buddhist approach
to the whole field of medicine will need to wait for
another day.
The Buddha taught that we should take physical medicinal
preparations for protection from the pain of sickness to
maximise good health. I interpret this statement to mean
that we should not take pain killers that lead to longterm decline in health.
Pain killers
So rule number one of plain medicine is: take less painkillers. We should wisely reflect before, while and
after taking pain-killers about whether the pain-killer
is actually making the sickness worse in the long term,
by hiding symptoms.
If we are honest to ourselves, this is very often the
case. The body and the mind are capable of rather
extraordinary feats of healing if they work together. The
problem is that they are often at war. When there is
pain, an untrained and unskilful person usually uses that
pain as a reason to ignite conflict between body and
mind. The mind gets angry and scared and resentful at the
body for the pain it produces, and of course, the body
responds to all these unskilful emotions with even more
pain. So, most people think that the best way to create
peace is to just cut off the pain.
Unfortunately, cutting off pain with pain-killers, in
most cases, is the equivalent of ignoring the dead canary
in a toxic coalmine. According to the Buddhas first
discourse, Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta, the first Noble
Truth of pain and suffering is something to be fully
experienced. Our suffering is there to point out that
there are problems that need to be dealt with. When we
take pain killers without wisely reflecting, then we only
gain the short-term peace of delusion, not the long-term
peace of intelligent action.

50

The Buddha provided an alternative to popping pills to


deal with pain. He taught the satipatthanas, the four
fields of composure: composure of body, composure of
feelings, composure of mind and composure of essential
patterns. Now the key point for modern Buddhists is that
actually this does not mean maintaining bare and
choiceless awareness. According to the Suttas and my own
experience, the Buddha did not teach that awareness alone
is enough to reduce pain and create healing.
Awareness needs to be combined with intelligent selfcontrol to create healing. I call this combination of
awareness and intelligent self-control composure. I
think composure is a much better translation for the
word sati than mindfulness. If we are properly
composed our pain thresholds go up, our pain levels go
down and our ability to heal ourselves improves.
Drugs
Now, rule number two of plain medicine is: use more
herbal medicines. Again, the Buddha advised that we take
medicine that actually improves our health.
Pharmaceuticals have become the weapon of choice in the
modern world because they work so quickly. The problem is
that they wreck our bodies and minds in the long term.
Thus were better off rediscovering the slow acting
medicines provided by nature. Every culture has its own
herbal law and it is imperative that we encourage their
revival and further development by turning to herbal
medicines as much as possible.
Old-age and death
Now, the third principle of plain medicine is: stop
looking for medical cures to old-age and death. The only
real cure to old-age and death is the practice of the
Noble Eightfold Way, and even if you become fully
enlightened in this life, you will still need to go
through old age and death one more time.
Medicine gets messy, unaffordable and cruel when we push
it to do the impossible. Thanks to geriatric medicines,

51

the lives of human beings are being stretched out like


too little butter on too much toast. It is better to live
a shorter life naturally, than to live a longer life like
a ring-wraith.
It is better to learn from the start, as a
of the Buddha that we are all fated to get
die. It is better, knowing this, to live a
life every day so that we may face old-age
dignity, courage and grace.

wise disciple
old and to
meaningful
and death with

Old age and death are like the bogey-man that children
imagine lives under their beds. When we turn on the light
and invite children to look directly under their beds for
themselves, then over time their fear fades away. In the
same way, to overcome this pathological fear of old age
and death, we need to look old age and death in the eye,
we need to spend more time with old and dying people and
talk openly about the inevitability of old age and death.
Of course, old age and death are often very painful
things. But please have faith that it is possible to
endure pain peacefully. Indeed, I know for I live a life
of constant asceticism. I do it because Im preparing for
my old-age and death. Knowing clearly that I am fated to
grow old and die, I am training myself so that I may bear
that pain peacefully when it comes and so that I may
fully understand it when it comes.
Not-for-profit medicine
Now, the fourth principle of plain medicine is: Dont
make profits out of medicine. Medicine is not for the
sake of making money. Medicine is for the sake of healing
the sick. I see no reason why doctors should be paid
large salaries. If we engage the healing arts, we should
do it for the love of humanity, not the love of the
dollar.
When large amounts of money get mixed into medicine, then
too often doctors lose their interest in healing people.
In fact, many, at least subconsciously, become interested
in promoting sickness. After all, the sicker people are,

52

the more likely they are to fork out money for whatever
medicine is on offer. Money corrupts and distorts many
doctors into being cronies to drug companies -- high
status and high salaried drug dealers.
Summary
In summary, the Buddha taught that sensual pleasures in
of themselves as well as attachment to sensual pleasures
are causes of great suffering.
Plain shelters are shelters that simply protect us from
the elements and provide seclusion. And there are four
principles of plain shelter: 1) live in multigenerational households, 2) live in a small home, 3)
build with natural and recycled building materials, and
4) join an intentional community.
Plain medicines are medicines that help us overcome pain
and make us healthy in the long-term. And the four
principles of plain medicine are: 1) take less painkillers, 2) use more herbal medicines, 3) stop looking
for medical cures to old age and death and 4) dont make
profits out of medicine.
Integrating Simple Living and Buddhism
To conclude, I should say that I am conscious that a lot
of what Im saying is old-hat to many of you, that is,
those of you who are into the simple living movement.
What is significant here is that Buddhism is an ancient
spirituality that affirms all that is good inside the
simple living movement and is capable of binding it with
deep spiritual insights that lead not just to ecological
sustainability, but social harmony, and profound
individual health and happiness. In a sense, the mission
of this Plain Buddhist Manifesto is to introduce
Buddhists to simple living and to introduce simple lifers
to Buddhism.
The synergies between Buddhism and simple living need to
be explored, harnessed and pressed into service. There is
a whole new world waiting to be created. Let us get
moving on the job at hand. Let us not wait even a single

53

breath in hesitation and negligence. For the times they


are achanging, but more importantly, death it is
awaiting us all.
And that is my Dhamma offering to you this evening. Let
us sit together in silence for a few moments to
contemplate what has been said. May all beings here seen
and unseen rejoice in the goodness and merits of this
Dhamma talk and may it lead to the long term happiness
and harmony of all living beings.
Sadhu. Sadhu. Sadhu.

54

Plain Buddhist Manifesto (IV):


Family
Welcome
Spiritual friends, fellows and companions. Lend me your
ears once more.
Welcome to talk number four out of a series of eight
entitled A Plain Buddhist Manifesto.
Review
To recap: Talk number one was an overview. Therein, we
set out the overall context. That is, a world where
orthodox Buddhism has lost its way, and where global
civilisation is in terminal decline. And we proposed
plain Buddhism as a powerful response to both of these
problems.
We set out the difference between plain Buddhism and
orthodox Buddhism. Plain Buddhism starts with the Pali
Suttas. We bring to the Suttas a plain, common sense and
direct approach to interpretation. And then we emphasize
five thematic undercurrents to the Suttas that make their
teachings particularly well-suited to dealing with the
problems of the modern age: that is 1) concreteness and
reviewability, 2) integrity and consistency, 3)
renunciation and contentment, 4) deep cooperative
community, and 5) belief in kamma and rebirth.
Plain Buddhism becomes a Plain Buddhist Manifesto when we
describe what happens when we apply the principles of
Plain Buddhism to transforming the foundations of
civilisation: that is, food and clothing, shelter and
medicine, family, community, education and homeless
wandering Buddhist monks and nuns.
In talk number two we spoke about a Plain Buddhist
approach to food and clothing. We said that the Buddha
taught that food is not for taste but for nutrition. The
four principles of plain food are: 1) eat food with plain
flavours in plain eating environments with plain eating

55

habits, 2) eat food that is fresh, local and organic, 3)


be as vegetarian as possible given health constraints and
4) abstain from alcohol and intoxicants.
We said that the Buddha taught that clothing is to be
worn for protection from the elements and as a social
grace, not for vanity. The four principles of plain
clothing are: 1) develop and wear your own life uniform,
2) wear clothing that is high quality, long-lasting,
dignified and ideally second hand to avoid getting
involved with fashion, 3) take advantage of the
opportunities to share the Dhamma created by your plain
clothing, and 4) move towards a life uniform composed of
all white clothing.
In talk number three we spoke about a plain Buddhist
approach to shelter and medicine. We said that the
Buddha taught that shelter is for protection from the
elements and seclusion, not for the sake of financial
investment. The four principles of plain shelter are 1)
live in multigenerational households, 2) live in small
homes, 3) build using recycled and natural materials and
4) live in intentional communities.
We also said that the Buddha taught that medicine is for
the mitigation of the pain of illness for the
maximization of good health, not for the sake of mere
short term relief. The four principles of plain medicine
are 1) use less pain-killers, 2) use more herbal
medicines, 3) stop looking for medical cures to old age
and death and 4) dont make profits out of medicine.
Tonight we will discuss a Plain Buddhist approach to
family life.
Why family is important
Tonight I want to begin with a few words about why family
is important. Only a handful of decades back, such a
statement would have sounded absurd. Of course family is
important! the audience would have retorted. But the
reasons were never made clear in a rational and
transparent way. It was just taken for granted. And thus,

56

when modernity started to question the importance of


family, the advocates of family failed to provide strong
rational replies.
So let us here cure that shortcoming. To question the
importance of family is to question on what basis we
should hold certain people more dear to us than others.
In the past, we took for granted that blood relations
should be held close because we lived in a world of
limited social and geographical mobility. Simply put, we
had no other choice.
But the world has changed. We now have the option to fly
to the other side of the world at the drop of a hat. And
the work that we do is not determined by the spelling of
our last name. Technology is constantly making it easier
for us to live according to our own personal preferences.
If we can customise our houses and cars, and change our
careers and countries so easily, why cant we customise
our family unit? Doesnt it make more sense to view those
with common interests and beliefs to be more like family
than blood-relations?
To reply Yes to this question, appears good and
unproblematic on paper. And so that is the direction that
our society is headed. And many people would say that
this is a good thing. They would say that we are
transcending our animal instincts and cultivating a more
rational way of living.
And yet, the chambers of the human heart rebel. We lose
something precious when we start thinking and living in
that way. Is this feeling anything more than primitive
sentimentality that fades away forever once the friendcounters on our Facebook accounts tick over one thousand?
I would like to give a Plain Buddhist response to that
question. The answer is No. The reason we cant just
get-up and leave family behind is kamma and rebirth. That
is to say, it is not just in this life-time that we have
lived with and known our family members.
In defence of Kamma and Rebirth

57

Hang on! I hear you thinking. Wasnt I supposed to be


providing a rational account for why family is important?
One might object that to say that family is important
because of kamma and rebirth is no more rational than
saying that family is important because Allah says so.
So here is where I enter into another one of the greatest
controversies of Buddhist history. Did the Buddha teach
rebirth and is rebirth for real? Im not into complex and
academic discussions about these sorts of things, so I
will attempt to give you a cogent and plain answer to
both of these questions in less than two minutes.
The first question, actually, isnt a genuine
controversy. The answer is simply, Yes. The Buddha did
teach rebirth. Its impossible to read the Pali Suttas
with a sense of respect for the meaning of words and come
to any other conclusion.
Of course, to do that we need to assume that the Pali
Suttas are a decent recording of what the Buddha actually
taught. But this is a reasonable assumption as the
historical evidence that the Pali Suttas are authentic is
very strong. Furthermore, I always personally invite
people to believe in the authenticity of the Suttas,
because more than anything else, that belief has
transformed my life for the better.
As for whether rebirth is real, the simple reply is that
out of all the explanations as to what happens after
death, it has more evidence backing it up than any other
explanation. I invite you to go online and have a read of
the research done about children who claim to remember
past lives by Professor Ian Stevenson, Francis Story and
Jim Tucker. Its very compelling reading. I recommend
you start with a recent interview of Jim Tucker by
Bhantes Sujato and Brahmali.
Special link between parents and children
So with that controversy behind us, my evidence-backed
faith in kamma and rebirth, makes me think that there is

58

a special link between family members, especially between


parents and children.
According to the Suttas we are all billions and billions
of lives old. This life is just the continuation of an
unfathomably ancient journey. The Buddha taught that,
weve been reborn so many times, it is difficult to come
across a being that has not been a close family member
one time or another, in the ancient past.
Because of kamma and rebirth, there is no such thing as
pure coincidence. We are born to our parents because, for
better or for worse, we have associated with them deeply
in recent past lives. Thus the relationship between
parent and child is foundational to the psychological
well-being of both.
Because of kamma and rebirth, what has happened before
tends to happen again. History, indeed does repeat. Thus
if our relationship with our parents or children is icy
or difficult, it is even more important that we not
simply run-away, but we make an effort to heal that
relationship. This is the blessing of being a human
being. We can choose to do things different to how we did
things before. We have the power to break the cycles of
history.
Deep in our hearts, we know that we have unfinished
business with our parents and children. That business is
always going to be a major part of any human beings
life-work. We cannot shirk it simply because it is
inconvenient. The more we try, the emptier we feel on the
inside.
Family and society
And, of course, family is not just important on the level
of the individual. That is to say only societies built
upon strong family values have a chance of long-term
survival and success. Simply speaking, but for the
distractions of bread and circuses, societies cannot
function when they are comprised of people with hearts
that are withered and dry.

59

Deep cooperative and communal behaviours are fostered


best inside good families. When we have grown up in a
good family, it is more likely that we will have the
emotional strength and moral integrity to sacrifice
short-term personal rewards for the sake of the long-term
welfare of society at large and, indeed, all living
beings.
We live in a world that thinks that family can be
replaced by material things and sensual pleasures and
friends who happen to like the same material things and
sensual pleasures as we do. This is not the way to be
human being fully alive in a humane society. Indeed, this
the way to be a consumer trapped in an economic machine.
Truly humane society is actually a network of harmonious
and peaceful families. So tonight I will share with you
what the Buddha taught about the foremost foundation of
harmonious and peaceful family life: good relations
between parents and children. This is from the Sigala
Sutta:
Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was
dwelling in Rajagaha in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrels'
Sanctuary.
Now on that occasion, young Sigala, a young householder,
having risen early in the morning, having departed from
Rajagaha, worshipped with joined hands these various
directions with wet clothes and wet hair the east, the
south, the west, the north, the nadir, and the zenith.
Then, when it was morning, the Blessed One dressed, and
taking his bowl and outer robe, he went into Rajagaha for
alms. Now he saw young Sigala worshipping and spoke to
him thus:
"Why, young householder, having risen early in the
morning, having departed from Rajagaha, do you worship
with joined hands these various direction with wet
clothes and wet hair the east, the south, the west, the
north, the nadir, and the zenith?"
"My father, Venerable Sir, while dying, said to me: Dear
son, you shall worship the six directions. And I,

60

Venerable Sir, respecting, revering, reverencing and


honoring my father's word, having risen early in the
morning, having departed from Rajagaha, worship with
joined hands these six directions with wet clothes and
wet hair."
"It is not thus, young householder, the six directions
should be worshipped in the discipline of the Noble
Ones."
"How then, Venerable Sir, should the six directions be
worshipped in the discipline of the Noble Ones? It is
well, Venerable Sir, if the Blessed One would teach the
Dhamma to me showing how the six directions should be
worshipped in the discipline of the Noble Ones."
Well, young householder, listen and bear it well in
mind; I shall speak." "Very good, Venerable Sir,"
responded young Sigala.
And the Blessed One spoke thus:
And how, young householder, does a disciple of the Noble
Ones cover the six directions?
These should be looked upon as the six directions. The
parents should be looked upon as the east, teachers as
the south, wife and children as the west, friends and
associates as the north, servants and employees as the
nadir, samanas and priests as the zenith.
In five ways, young householder, parents should be
ministered to by their children as the east: Having been
supported, I shall support, I shall do their duties, I
shall maintain the family traditions, I shall make myself
worthy of my inheritance, also I shall make offerings to
the departed.
Young householder, the parents, ministered to by their
children as the east in those five ways, show compassion
in five ways: they restrain them from the bad, they
encourage them in the good, they train them in a craft,
they bind them to a suitable partner, and at the proper
time they hand over their inheritance.
In these five ways, young householder, children minister
to their parents as the east, and these five ways parents

61

show compassion. Thus the east is covered and made safe and
secure.

This is one of my favourite suttas. I can almost feel the


cold morning air that Sigala must have been chilled by as
he went about with wet clothes and wet hair. I am touched
by the faith and love that Sigala had for his deceased
father, and by the gentleness with which the Buddha used
his encounter with Sigala to teach him the principles of
happy and secure lay-life.
The Buddha, with a single graceful stroke, transformed a
well-meant but ultimately futile superstitious practice
into a concrete and reviewable guide to good behaviour
and good relationships in family and society.
A life of responsibility and service
The Buddha, with dexterity and plain speech explained to
Sigala that the world is protected, made safe and secure,
by conceiving life in terms of compassionate
responsibilities, duties and service to others. This is a
far-cry from the modern perspective that social equity is
won through the creation and protection of rights and
entitlements.
Simply put, if everyone is always looking to help
everybody else get what they need then, everybody gets
what they need. On the other hand, if everyone is always
looking to get whatever they can for themselves, then the
devious and the aggressive get more than what they need,
and the naive and the meek live in deprivation.
We may object that emphasising rights and entitlements is
precisely the way to stop the devious and the aggressive
from getting too much. The problem is that solutions
based on rights and entitlements still buy into the
assumption that we live in dog-eat-dog world of
intrinsically competitive interests. With such a wrongworldview as a basis, eventually the rights designed to
protect victims from abusers, will simply create another
set of victims and abusers. Instead of solving inequity,
we shuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic.

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The Buddha taught in many different ways how the good


life comes out of a worldview rooted in faith in the
teaching of kamma and rebirth. With conviction that we
live in a moral universe that can produce win-win
outcomes in the long-term, we do not fear living a lives
of generosity, service and sacrifice. The reciprocal
duties described in the Sigala Sutta are just a
description of fruitful ways to be generous. There, the
Buddha assured us that so long as we live lives devoted
to giving in the right way, then we will always be safe
and society will be secure.
The duties of children
Now, before we get onto the duties of children to their
parents, it cannot be emphasized enough that we are
raising children the wrong way. We have come to believe
that the way to show love to children is to give them
whatever they want. But children, being children, tend to
want material things and sensual pleasures. Those who
remember the Magandiya Sutta and the Shorter Sutta on the
Mass of Suffering recited in previous talks will remember
that according to the Buddha, sensual pleasures and
material things are toxic and highly addictive.
Thus, if we give into
impulses, then we are
into addicts to money
addicts are incapable
parasites on society.

our childrens materialistic


poisoning them and turning them
and material things. Weak-minded
of personal happiness and are

We need to wake up to the fact that happiness is won


through wisdom, discipline and hard work. None of these
things can be learned without a revival of the art of
tough love. That is, love that is constantly aimed at
giving our children independence and strength and which
is uncompromising in the face of the childish and shortsighted tempers of children.
In other words, it is high time parents stopped pandering
to their childrens sense of entitlement and gave them
serious responsibilities.

63

Supporting parents
Now, the first responsibility of children is to know
gratitude towards parents, thinking to themselves Having
been supported, I will support. Children should support
their parents through their entire life, not just in old
age.
This responsibility points towards the need for modern
people to make more of an effort to stay close to parents
for life. The honeymoon is over for modernity. Now we are
all feeling the long-term negative effects of familydislocation. Our families are scattered all-over the
world, and were not getting the physical, emotional and
spiritual support we used to get from family. We are
missing the clan, because clans can only aggregate if
children make an effort to stay close to their parents.
And, of course, this is particularly important when our
parents get old. It is simply wrong that so many elderly
people today live out their dotage in institutions.
Doing parents duties
The second responsibility of children is to take interest
in their parents' roles in society and to do their
parents societal duties. Children should go to work with
their parents regularly and help out with whatever they
can so that they can learn about the world outside of
home and school. Also, the more active parents are with
societal duties outside of paid work like looking after
relations or doing charitable activities, the more
opportunities children will have to participate.
Children need to regularly take part in activities that
have real consequences for real people. This is the best
way to foster in them a sense of responsibility,
empowerment, belonging and self-esteem.
Maintaining family tradition
The third responsibility of children is to know respect
for elders and to maintain family traditions. This duty
is often misunderstood as meaning that children should

64

not think or speak for themselves. This cant be correct,


because the Buddha lived a life of constant rebellion
against the unwholesome traditions of his day and
exhorted his followers to swim against the stream as
well.
We need to cultivate a middle-way relationship with
tradition. We should neither blindly kow-tow to it nor
blithely throw it away. Our responsibility as children is
to maintain our family traditions by maintaining and
further developing what is good therein and carefully
abandoning what is bad.
Now, on the other hand, this approach is also far away
from the idea that younger generations should be allowed
to say whatever they want. Indeed, it is no good to speak
with disrespect or at the wrong time no matter how old we
are. This approach takes as self-evident that a life of
right starts with an attitude of respect and gratitude
towards elders and ancestors. This is because the wisdom
to know the difference between the good and the bad
cannot be built upon attitudes of conceit and arrogance.
When we are respectful, we put ourselves in a position to
benefit from all that is good in our traditions, and to
show the greatest gratitude of all, by improving on what
our elders and ancestors have left behind for the welfare
of all living beings.
Being worthy of inheritance
The fourth responsibility of children is to live lives of
virtue so that they may make themselves worthy of their
inheritance. We should not be looking at our inheritance
with greedy eyes and a sense of entitlement. The
inheritance bequeathed to us by our parents is a
privilege and a responsibility, not a right and
entitlement.
It is a heavy burden that we must train ourselves
beforehand to bear, so that we may carry it with
rectitude when the time comes. We can only consider
ourselves to be worthy bearers of the fruits of our

65

families, if we are willing and capable of using those


fruits for the sake of the proper maintenance and further
development of our families.
Making offerings to the departed
The fifth responsibility of children is to make offerings
to the departed. Given the context, I assume that the
Buddha was talking about making offerings to deceased
parents specifically, as opposed to all of the departed
in general.
Please note that there is no mention of only giving to
Buddhist monks or nuns here. Also note that because of
ambiguities in Pali grammar we dont know if the Sutta
means to say we should be making offerings for the
departed or to the departed or even of the departed.
In the past, I thought that the third variation was the
most likely, in the sense that children should dutifully
distribute gifts as executors to their parents estates
in line with their parents' wishes.
But now I think that the first and second variations are
just as valid. That is, children should either do
charitable deeds on a regular basis and dedicate the
merits to their parents, and/or make small symbolic
offerings to shrines set up for their deceased parents on
a regular basis.
Why should we do these things? Arent they just remnants
of superstitious Asian culture? While doubtless,
traditional Asian culture often takes these things way
too far by worshipping deceased parents and ancestors, I
think these things are worth doing as a way of practising
respect for past generations.
Furthermore, there are more things in heaven and earth
than are dreamt in our philosophy. In the rebirth cases
investigated by Professor Stevenson and Jim Tucker, the
median time between death and rebirth is around 16
months. So when our parents die, there is at least some
chance that they are hanging around us before they move
on. Thus, just to stay on the safe side of things, I

66

think it is a good idea to make offerings to, for and of


departed parents. This way, we may dwell at ease, our
parents can dwell at ease and our society can be founded
on a culture of respect for past generations.
The duties of parents
Now, lets roll onto the duties of parents to children.
Attitudes to parenting have changed a lot in recent
times. I think that we can be sure that the Buddha would
have given his thumbs-down to childcare centres. The
relegation of the role of parent to provider of money,
toys and entertainment is a tragic thing to witness.
Once, when a young child learned that I live without any
money, he asked, But how does he buy stuff for his
children?
When we human beings decide to have children, or even if
it happens through negligence, we take on a heavy
responsibility that should not be outsourced to others
even though its difficult to resist because of
government subsidies and the normalisation of the doubleincome family.
Unless we make a strong effort to re-own our human
responsibilities to our human children, then we have
nothing to complain about when we are being treated like
cog-wheels in a cold and heartless economic machine. And
we should not be surprised when our children leave us in
aged-care, in the same way we left them in childcare,
while we were too busy doing more important things.
Restraint from bad and encouragement in the good
The first two responsibilities of parents are to restrain
children from the bad and to encourage them in the good.
Of course, everybody likes doing the second one, but the
art of doing the first one has been lost. Children need
to hear the word No said to them peacefully and
confidently, on a regular basis from the moment they
leave the womb. They must not think that No is a dirty
word. The quicker they understand that life is not about
getting what they personally want, the better.

67

There are five things that children will say to


emotionally blackmail their parents into capitulating to
their unwholesome demands, and five proper ways to
restrain them.
1) They will say: But I want it. The proper response
is: No. I dont give you what you want. I give you
what you need.
2) They will say: But all the other kids have one. The
proper response is: No. I dont give you what the
other kids have. I give you what you need.
3) They will say: But Ive been good. The proper
response is: Yes you have been. And thank you. But I
dont reward you with material things. I reward you
by spending time with you and teaching you how to be
a good person. So come with me now, Ill teach you
how to adjust the brakes on your bike.
4) They will say: Youre the worst Mummy in the world.
You dont love me. The proper response is: Thats
not true. Im a good mother and I love you. And you
are now on your first warning for speaking
disrespectfully to me.
5) They will say: Please ... (with a cute smile). The
proper response is: No.
Punishment
Parents must also be willing to punish their children. Of
course, the punishment must never involve any kind of
violence, physical or verbal, and ideally, not involve
even a milliseconds worth of internal anger. Because
children usually do not appreciate the long-term
suffering that comes from unwholesome behaviours, parents
must inflict immediate painful but non-violent
consequences on them so that they understand the
connection between bad actions and painful results.
The classic non-violent punishments are: not being
allowed to leave the naughty chair, being sent to their
room, having nothing served to them but bad tasting food,
missing out on dessert, or missing out on whole meals.
Believe me, there is no child in the world who is so

68

stubborn and recalcitrant that they can stand up to their


own hunger for long.
Choices have consequences
It is imperative that parents calmly communicate in
unambiguous terms the difference between good and bad
behaviour, so that children are left in no confusion
about how to make good choices and avoid making bad
choices. Children thrive when they are told the rules and
they feel that the adults will peacefully and assertively
enforce them.
And then, when rewarding for good behaviour or punishing
for bad behaviour, parents should calmly communicate to
children that all choices have consequences, and that
they are simply receiving the fruits of their own
choices.
The sooner children internalise that they are not being
rewarded or punished according to the preferences of
their parents, but rather it is all happening because of
the choices they have made for themselves, the sooner
they will realise that they live in a universe with
immutable moral structures based on the law of kamma. A
child who realises this, no longer needs her parents to
punish or reward her. And such a child is destined for
happiness and success in life.
Such a child will not be driven by the need for approval
from or the fear of punishment from anyone in the
universe with its gods, its Maras, its Brahmas, its
samanas and priests, in this population with its princes
and its people. They will be able to direct themselves
independently according to their own moral compass.
Training in craft
The third responsibility of parents is to train children
in a craft. In accordance with the Sutta on the Blessing
where the Buddha says that a supreme blessing is
practical knowledge and craft, I want to warn parents
off insisting that their children be academic superstars.

69

It comes down to this: we should educate children to


become meaningful and creative contributors to society.
The problem is that this hard to do that when the global
economy treats profits as more important than people and
when the modern technocratic education system is part and
parcel of this system. Its task is to construct the next
generation of functional psychopaths to be the new
captains of industry and government, as well as to
assemble the next generation of sheepish workers-cumconsumers to grease their perverse economic machine.
When our children become academic superstars they get
into the habit of giving the answers the system wants to
hear, and then they just become a part of the system that
is degrading and destroying us all. So, I ask the parents
here to please reconsider.
I highly recommend home-schooling and teaching the young
about Permaculture and other forms of sustainable and
regenerative agriculture and industry, so that the next
generation is equipped with the practical skills they
will need to live in and heal this deeply damaged world.
Now, Im a monk who puts his requisites where his mouth
is. I am in the process of developing an alternative
approach to education that synergises the homeschooling
movement with the Buddhas insights into the functioning
of the mind. Please come back for talk number six for
more on that.
Giving a childs hand in marriage
The fourth responsibility of parents is to bind their
children to suitable partners. To fulfil this duty we
need to know what makes for suitable partners to our
children in the first place.
Now, the idea that another person is a suitable partner
for one of our children simply because they harbour
sentiments of romantic love for each other is clearly
wrong. This now entrenched cultural meme has been a blind
disaster for society. It would have collapsed years ago
if not for our addiction to watching ditzy and delusional

70

Hollywood RomComs. Whether by music, literature, film or


theatre, we have it beaten into us that love will find
the way.
Well, romantic love will not find the way as is
demonstrably the case from the fact that the rising rates
of expensive romantic weddings are matched only by the
rising rates of divorce.
On the other hand, true love, the Brahmaviharas, that is
universal goodwill, compassion, appreciation and patient
understanding will find the way. But true love is not
something we fall into. Nor is it natural or God-given.
It is something that we must practice and master. Because
romantic love is something we fall into, it is something
that we just as easily fall out off. Therefore, building
a marriage on romantic love is like building a castle on
sand. Marriage based on the Brahmaviharas, on the other
hand, is like building on a divine rock that gets even
more stable with age.
So the first thing to look for in partners for our
children, are those who understand the difference between
romantic love and the Brahmaviharas.
After that, parents should be involved in the process of
choosing life-partners for children because, most people
only gain the maturity to properly understand the
complexities of human relationships when they hit their
thirties. Now, given the constraints of biology, getting
married after thirty is not ideal. Thus, young adults in
their twenties are in a position where it is time to get
married, and yet they lack the personal wisdom to choose
an appropriate life partner on their own.
But, of course, if the relationship between parents and
children is strong, then parents can and should chip in
with their life experience, helping their children find
partners who complement them in both qualities and
skills. More specifically, the Buddha taught that the
best marriages are made of two people who are in tune in
terms of the spiritual faculties of faith, virtue,
generosity and wisdom.

71

Passing on the inheritance


The fifth responsibility of parents is to pass on their
childrens inheritance at the right time. I think the
right time is always well before we die. This way we can
instruct our heirs in the proper way to use their
inheritance for the welfare of all beings, and to ensure,
at the very least, that it does not become a source of
conflict between relatives.
Also, it is good to go to death having loosened our sense
of clinging to material things. If we are too weak in
faith and wisdom to live simply while young, we should at
least do so when we are old. Its never too late.
And then, we will have time to develop a different kind
of wealth: the wealth of the Buddhadhamma. And if as
older people we can pass even a little of this to the
young before we die, then we may die knowing we have left
some true wealth behind.
Summary
In summary, family is important because kamma and rebirth
are real and we have unfinished business with family from
past lives. Peaceful and harmonious family is created by
maintaining our duties towards other family members. The
most important duties inside the family are those between
parents and children.
Children have five duties to their parents: 1) to support
them, 2) to do their duties, 3) to maintain family
traditions, 4) to be deserving of their inheritance and
5) to make offerings to the departed.
Parents have five duties to their children: 1) to
restrain them from the bad, 2) to encourage them in the
good, 3) to train them in a craft, 4) to bind them to a
suitable partner and 5) to pass on their inheritance at
the right time.
There are, of course, other relationships to be attended
to inside the family as well, such as the relationship
between husband and wife and between siblings. But the

72

Buddhas advice about these will need to wait for another


day.
Conclusion
In conclusion, the equation in Plain Buddhism is as plain
and simple as this. Money, material things and sensual
pleasures cannot bring us lasting happiness. Peaceful and
harmonious family life can. Thus and furthermore, money,
material things and sensual pleasures cannot create
successful societies, but happy and harmonious families
can.
That is my Dhamma offering to you this evening. Let us
sit together for a few moments in silence to contemplate
was has been said. May all beings here whether seen or
unseen rejoice in the goodness and merits of this Dhamma
talk, and may it lead to the long-term happiness and
harmony of all living beings.
Sadhu. Sadhu. Sadhu.

73

Plain Buddhist Manifesto (V):


Community
Welcome
Spiritual friends, fellows and companions. Lend me your
ears once more.
Welcome to talk number five out of a series of eight
entitled A Plain Buddhist Manifesto.
Review
To recap: Talk number one was an overview. Therein, we
set out the overall context. That is, a world where
orthodox Buddhism has lost its way, and where global
civilisation is in terminal decline. And we proposed
Plain Buddhism as a powerful response to both of these
problems.
We set out the difference between Plain Buddhism and
orthodox Buddhism. Plain Buddhism starts with the Pali
Suttas. We bring to the Suttas a plain, common sense and
direct approach to interpretation. And then we emphasize
five thematic undercurrents to the Suttas that make their
teachings particularly well-suited to dealing with the
problems of the modern age: that is 1) concreteness and
reviewability, 2) integrity and consistency, 3)
renunciation and contentment, 4) deep cooperative
community, and 5) belief in kamma and rebirth.
Plain Buddhism becomes a Plain Buddhist Manifesto when we
describe what happens when we apply the principles of
Plain Buddhism to transforming the foundations of
civilisation: that is, food and clothing, shelter and
medicine, family, community, education and homeless
wandering Buddhist monks and nuns.
In talk number two we spoke about a Plain Buddhist
approach to food and clothing. We said that the Buddha
taught that food is not for taste but for nutrition. The
four principles of plain food are: 1) eat food with plain
flavours in plain eating environments with plain eating

74

habits, 2) eat food that is fresh, local and organic, 3)


be as vegetarian as possible given health constraints and
4) abstain from alcohol and intoxicants.
We said that the Buddha taught that clothing is to be
worn for protection from the elements and as a social
grace, not for vanity. The four principles of plain
clothing are: 1) develop and wear your own life uniform,
2) wear clothing that is high quality, long-lasting,
dignified and ideally second-hand to avoid getting
involved with fashion, 3) take advantage of the
opportunities to share the Dhamma created by your plain
clothing, and 4) move towards a life uniform composed of
all white clothing.
In talk number three we spoke about a plain Buddhist
approach to shelter and medicine. We said that the
Buddha taught that shelter is for protection from the
elements and seclusion, not for the sake of financial
investment. The four principles of plain shelter are 1)
live in multigenerational households, 2) live in a small
homes, 3) build using recycled and natural materials and
4) live in an intentional community.
We also said that the Buddha taught that medicine is for
the mitigation of the pain of illness for the
maximization of good health, not for the sake of mere
short term relief. The four principles of plain medicine
are 1) use less pain-killers, 2) use more herbal
medicines, 3) stop looking for medical cures to old age
and death and 4) dont make profits out of medicine.
In talk number four we spoke about a Plain Buddhist
approach to family. We said that the Buddha taught that
peaceful and harmonious family life is won through the
maintenance of reciprocal responsibilities between family
members. We focused on the most important set of
responsibilities, that is those existing between parents
and children.
Children have five responsibilities to their parents: 1)
to support them, 2) to do their societal duties, 3) to
maintain the family traditions, 4) to make themselves

75

worthy of their inheritance, and 5) to make offerings to


departed parents.
Parents have five responsibilities to their children: 1)
to restrain them from the bad, 2) to encourage them in
the good, 3) to train them in a craft, 4) to bind them to
suitable partners, and 5) to pass on their inheritance at
the right time.
Tonight we will discuss a Plain Buddhist approach to
community. Plain Buddhist communities are islands of
enlightened local resilience where people live together
in material simplicity and deep cooperative community
based upon the teachings of the Pali Suttas.
Plain Buddhist communities use spirituality to overcome
materialism, love and forgiveness to overcome hatred and
violence, renunciation and contentment to overcome greed
and selfishness, wisdom and common sense to overcome
denial and propaganda, and local sovereignty to overcome
centralised power.
Preface
Why do we need Plain Buddhist communities?
Many of you will have noticed that the world today has
gone absolutely crackers. We do, indeed, live in a global
civilisation in terminal decline.
We are in ecological overshoot. Our soils are depleted.
Our oceans are nigh empty. The climate is changing. We
are in sociological overshoot. People are unhappy and
sick. Families, communities and nation-states are falling
apart. The global economy is a basketcase that lurches on
on the basis of wishful thinking and propaganda.
Democracy has failed. And the drums of war are beating in
the distance.
So it is time for the naive people of coal-rich Hunter
Valley to wake up to the dangers that the inhabitants of
debt-ridden Greece already breath. The dream of garnering
happiness for all by universalising middle-class

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affluence driven by consumer culture has mutated into a


howling nightmare.
Thus, we need to create alternative communities, and we
need to take well-contemplated, serious, committed and
practical measures to create them now. In this monks
learned opinion, the Buddha was the wisest being there
ever was and ever shall be. So it makes sense to me that
we create alternative communities based on the Buddhas
teaching.
But, the first mark of a wise person is that she has
realistic expectations. The centre of global civilisation
as we know it cannot hold. Mainstream society has gone
too far down the wrong road. The critical period wherein
we might have turned the crisis into a peaceful gateway
to a Universal New Age has passed. It is too late to turn
the global tide.
When fools go mad with greed, hatred, delusion and fear,
and there is nothing more that can be done, wise
Buddhists, walk away. It is time we gave up on having our
cake and eating it too. We need to leave mainstream
society behind us. There is no point in trying to
transform the machine from the inside. The Titanic cannot
be saved. The best we can do now is build up islands of
enlightened local resilience that will ride out the
rising tides of suffering as they come.
Sutta on the Imperfections
The Buddha found himself in a similar situation in the
quarrel of Kosambi. A part of that episode is related in
the Sutta on the Imperfections:
Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was
living at Kosambi in Ghositas Park.
Now on that occasion the monks at Kosambi had taken to
quarrelling and brawling and were deep in disputes,
stabbing each other with verbal daggers.
Then a certain monk went to the Blessed One, and after
paying homage to him, he stood at one side and said:

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Bhante, the monks here at Kosambi have taken to


quarrelling and brawling and are deep in disputes,
stabbing each other with verbal daggers. It would be
good, Bhante, if the Blessed One would go to those monks
out of compassion. The Blessed One consented in silence.
Then the Blessed One went to those monks and said to
them: Enough, monks, let there be no quarrelling,
brawling, wrangling or dispute. When this was said, a
certain monk said to the Blessed One: Wait, Bhante! Let
the Blessed One, the Lord of the Dhamma, live at ease
devoted to a pleasant abiding here and now. We are the
ones who will be responsible for this quarrelling,
brawling, wrangling, and dispute.
For a second and third time the Blessed One said to them:
Enough, monks, let there be no quarrelling, brawling,
wrangling or dispute. When this was said, for a second
and third time that monk said to the Blessed One: Wait,
Bhante! Let the Blessed One, the Lord of the Dhamma, live
at ease devoted to a pleasant abiding here and now. We
are the ones who will be responsible for this
quarrelling, brawling, wrangling, and dispute.
Then, when it was morning, the Blessed One dressed, and
taking his bowl and outer robe, entered Kosambi for alms.
When he had wandered for alms in Kosambi and had returned
from his almsround, after his meal he set his resting
place in order, took his bowl and outer robe, and while
standing uttered these stanzas:
When many voices shout at once
None considers himself a fool;
Though the Sangha is being split
None thinks himself to be at fault.
They have forgotten thoughtful speech,
They talk obsessed by words alone.
Uncurbed their mouths, they bawl at will;
None knows what leads him so to act.
He abused me, he struck me,

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He defeated me, he robbed me


In those who harbour thoughts like these
Hatred will never be allayed.
He abused me, he struck me,
He defeated me, he robbed me
In those who do not harbour thoughts like these
Hatred will readily be allayed.
For in this world hatred is never
Allayed by further acts of hate.
It is allayed by forgiveness:
That is the fixed and ageless law.
Those others do not recognise
That here we all must die.
But those wise ones who realise this
At once end all their enmity.
Breakers of bones and murderers,
Those who steal cattle, horses, wealth,
Those who pillage the entire realm
When even these can act together
Why can you not do so too?
If one can find a worthy friend,
A virtuous, steadfast companion,
Then overcome all threats of danger
And walk with him content and composed.
But if one finds no worthy friend,
No virtuous, steadfast companion,
Then as a king leaves his conquered realm,
Walk like a tusker in the woods alone.
Better it is to walk alone,
There is no companionship with fools.
Walk alone and do no evil,
At ease like a tusker in the woods.

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Then, having uttered these stanzas while standing, the


Blessed One went ... to the Eastern Bamboo Park....
Then the Venerable Anuruddha went to the Venerable
Nandiya and the Venerable Kimbila and said: Come out,
venerable sirs, come out! Our Teacher, the Blessed One,
has come.
Then all three went to meet the Blessed One. One took his
bowl and outer robe, one prepared a seat, and one set out
water for washing the feet. The Blessed One sat down on
the seat made ready and washed his feet. Then those three
venerable ones paid homage to the Blessed One and sat
down at one side, and the Blessed One said to them: I
hope you are comfortable, I hope you are not having any
trouble getting almsfood.
We are keeping well, Blessed One, we are comfortable,
and we are not having any trouble getting almsfood.
I hope, Anuruddha, that you are all living in concord,
with mutual appreciation, without disputing, blending
like milk and water, viewing each other with kindly
eyes.
Surely, Bhante, we are living in concord, with mutual
appreciation, without disputing, blending like milk and
water, viewing each other with kindly eyes.
But, Anuruddha, how do you live thus?
Bhante, as to that, I think thus: It is a gain for me,
it is a great gain for me that I am living with such
companions in the holy life. I maintain bodily acts of
goodwill towards these venerable ones both openly and
privately; I maintain verbal acts of goodwill towards
them both openly and privately; I maintain mental acts of
goodwill towards them both openly and privately. I
consider: Why should I not set aside what I wish to do
and do what these venerable ones wish to do? Then I set
aside what I wish to do and do what these venerable ones

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wish to do. We are different in body, Bhante, but one in


mind.
The Venerable Nandiya and the Venerable Kimbila each
spoke likewise, adding This is how, venerable sir, we
are living in concord, with mutual appreciation, without
disputing, blending like milk and water, viewing each
other with kindly eyes.
Good, good, Anuruddha. I hope that you all abide
diligent, self-controlled and resolute.
Surely, Bhante, we abide diligent, self-controlled, and
resolute.
But, Anuruddha, how do you abide thus?
Bhante, as to that, whichever of us returns first from
the village with almsfood prepares the seats, sets out
the water for drinking and for washing, and puts the
refuse bucket in its place. Whichever of us returns last
eats any food left over, if he wishes; otherwise he
throws it away where there is no greenery or drops it
into water where there is no life. He puts away the seats
and the water for drinking and for washing. He puts away
the refuse bucket after washing it, and he sweeps out the
refectory. Whoever notices that the pots of water for
drinking, washing, or the latrine are low or empty takes
care of them. If they are too heavy for him, he calls
someone else by a signal of the hand and they move it by
joining hands, but because of this we do not break out
into speech. But every five days we sit together all
night discussing the Dhamma. That is how we abide
diligent, self-controlled and resolute.
Ten Principles of the Sutta on the Imperfections
While this is a Sutta about war and peace inside the
Sangha, lay-Buddhists of today can look to ten principles
found in the behaviour of the Buddha and Venerable

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Anuruddhas group for guidance about how to establish and


maintain Plain Buddhist communities.
Its ok to leave
Principle number one: Just as the Buddha had no qualms
with leaving the monks of Kosambi behind him, layBuddhists need feel no qualms about leaving mainstream
society behind them.
Decentralise
Principle number two: Just as the Venerable Anuruddhas
group was able to live in peace and harmony because of
the decentralised nature of the Sangha, so too layBuddhists should extract themselves from the centralising
mechanisms of mainstream society by going off-the-grid as
much as possible so that they may live, as unmolested as
possible by the rising chaos and inequities in the
mainstream society.
Lay-Buddhists should start by cultivating islands of
Dhamma inside themselves, and at the same time make
efforts to turn their nuclear families into islands of
enlightened local resilience, and at the same time make
efforts to create archipelagos of enlightened local
resilience by banding together with other such families
whether they be Buddhists or Buddhist sympathisers.
Food security
Principle number three: Just as the first question the
Buddha asked Venerable Anuruddha was in regard to food,
lay-Buddhists should make food security their highest
priority. Lay-Buddhists should become versed in
sustainable and regenerative food-growing practices by
doing Permaculture Design Courses, simple living courses
and participating in Permaculture and simple living
circles, in order to grow and share as much of their own
food as possible.
Social harmony

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Principle number four: Just as the next question the


Buddha asked Venerable Anuruddha was in regard to social
harmony, lay-Buddhists should make training in the skills
that lead social harmony, blending like milk and water
their highest priority as well. Lay-Buddhists should do
so by regularly attending Dhamma talks by good Buddhist
monks and nuns so that they may properly understand what
the Buddha actually taught, and by participating in Plain
Buddhist Tent Villages to gain concrete experiences of
the ins-and-outs, and joys of Plain Buddhist community
life.
Goodwill in action
Principle number five: Just as Venerable Anuruddha and
his friends created concord in their group by practising
goodwill, lay-Buddhists should also practice goodwill to
create concord in their communities. This point deserves
expanding upon as I want to make it clear that
successfully practising goodwill is not as simple as just
reciting, May all beings be happy and well.
Goodwill in worldview
Goodwill or metta, in Pali, has several aspects. The
first is the development of Right Worldview. At the
initial stages of practice, the most powerful thing
inside the Dhamma is in the realisation that we can train
ourselves to deliberately hold onto the Right Worldview
that all beings wish to happy and free from suffering. By
dwelling on this common desire we can see all beings as
friends, grow in goodwill and live in concord.
One of the fallacies of theistic religions is that they
each refer to a version of an all-powerful Creator God as
the common thread between peoples. This leads to conflict
because while it unites all those with the same God, it
bitterly divides those with different Gods. Thus
believing in an all-powerful Creator God is a wrong
worldview that leads to ill will and conflict.
The Buddhas teaching on the other hand creates peace
between those of different beliefs. This is because the

83

commonality that it refers to is the empirical


observation that all beings wish to be happy and free
from suffering. The Buddha turned everything on its head
by replacing a wrong worldview based on a groundless
metaphysical assertion with a Right Worldview based on
concrete and reviewable observations that everyone can
make for themselves.
The desire to be happy and free from suffering is the
fundamental desire driving all the actions and choices of
all beings. It connects not just human beings with each
other but humans and animals and ghosts and gods and
demons. Thus, thinking in this way is a Right Worldview
that leads to goodwill and concord.
Now, if you have ever tried to practice goodwill on the
cushion or in everyday life and been left feeling like a
fake, it will be because of this first reason. Many
Buddhists have been taught for a long time now, to just
wish May all beings be happy and well! without being
taught about how to change their underlying worldview so
that they can actually mean it.
To change your worldview, keep your eyes peeled in
everyday life for the way living beings both great and
small actually behave. By doing this, you will see for
yourself and become thoroughly convinced that all the
birds in the sky and the bugs in the ground and
everything in between and beyond wants to be happy and
free from suffering. Eventually, you will come to see
that even when your boss screams at you at work, he is
doing it because he wants to be happy and free from
suffering.
If you keep making an effort to notice these empirical
facts and to connect these with the fact that you too
want to be happy and free from suffering, then the
goodwill in you will grow and grow.
Win-win outcomes & kamma and rebirth
Or if you still find yourself feeling like a fake when
thinking, May all beings be happy and well, it will be

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because of this second reason. Even if we are convinced


that everyone wants to be happy and free from suffering,
it is difficult to genuinely wish it if we hold onto the
wrong worldview that the wish is futile anyway. That is,
even if we agree that we all want to be happy, we will
still hold onto ill will and fight with each other if we
think that happiness is a limited resource that we must
compete for; that life is a zero sum game where winners
must beget losers, where the happiness of some must be
built on the suffering of others; that realistically
speaking, we can only be happy by acting out our ill-will
and aggression in order to come out on top. This is a
wrong worldview that leads to ill will and discord.
It is no surprise that many people have such a worldview.
When we look at the state of the world, it is all too
easy to come to that conclusion. When we only look at
this life, then it appears that the aggressive and the
devious are rewarded and the honest and the gentle are
punished. This is why the common view is that greed is
good, aggression is empowering and ignorance is bliss.
Right Worldview, on the other hand, holds that long-term
win-win outcomes for everybody are possible through the
practice of universal goodwill, contentment and wisdom as
integrated parts of the Noble Eightfold Way. Its just
that it doesnt look that way because kamma bears fruit,
non-sequentially over many life-times.
In other words, Right Worldview built on faith in the
Buddhas teaching on kamma and rebirth protects our Right
Motivation to practice goodwill.
Concrete guidelines
Now if youre wishing may beings be happy while holding
the Right Worldview that all beings want to be happy just
like you and that it really is possible for all beings to
be happy through the practice of the Dhamma, and yet
youre still feeling like a fake, it will be because of
this third reason. That is, you need concrete guidelines
for how to manifest your goodwill in everyday action.

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This is dasa kusala dhamma, also known as the ten


principles of the good life. There are three principles
regarding bodily action, four regarding verbal action and
three regarding mental action, making for ten principles
in total.
1) Is to abandon the killing of living beings, and to
live compassionate for all living beings instead;
2) Is to abandon taking what is not given, and to be
content and generous instead;
3) Is to not commit sexual misconduct, but to be
faithful and even chaste instead;
4) Is to not speak falsehood, but to be a reliable and
trustworthy person instead;
5) Is to not speak divisively, but to speak words that
promote friendship, forgiveness and unity instead;
6) Is to not speak harshly, but to speak words that are
gentle, pleasing to the ear and go to the heart
instead;
7) Is to not speak idle chatter, but to speak words that
are timely, meaningful and beneficial instead;
8) Is to not have a materialistic and covetous mind, but
to have a mind of renunciation, generosity and
simplicity instead;
9) Is to not have a nasty mind, but to have a mind of
goodwill instead; and
10)
Is to not deny the teaching of kamma and
rebirth, but to investigate and affirm it through
investigation instead.
So thats enough on how to practice goodwill. Lets move
onto the next principle underlying the Sutta on the
Imperfections.
Material simplicity
Principle number six: Just as Venerable Anuruddha and his
friends were able to live in deep cooperative community
because of their material simplicity, lay-Buddhists
should also strive to practice material simplicity in
everything that they do. In particular, it means
cultivating plain food, clothing, shelter and medicine.
Simply put, less stuff means less stuff to fight about,
less inequality and more motivation for cooperation.

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Self-control
Principle number seven: Just as Venerable Anuruddha
considered cooperative living as a way of being diligent,
self-controlled and resolute, lay-Buddhists should have
the same attitude to community life. That is to say, layBuddhists living in community should not behave as lazy
hippies. A deeply authentic Buddhist way of life is not a
holiday. Its meant to be hard work. And the joy that
comes from it whether as monks, nuns, laymen or laywomen
should always be the joy of hard but meaningful work. In
this way, Buddhists work hard and have fun at the same
time.
Respect for elders
Principle number eight: Just as Venerable Anuruddha and
his friends accorded to the Buddha the highest honour by
preparing a seat for him and setting out water for
washing his feet, lay-Buddhists should make respect for
elders a central part of their culture. However, in
Buddhism, a person in not made an elder by their
biological age or by the years they have been in the
robes, after all the Buddha was venerated by many who
were older than him and who had been ascetics for longer
than him. In Buddhism, one is an elder to the extent that
one has mastered the qualities of faith, virtue,
generosity and wisdom.
Regular meetings
Principle number nine: Just as Venerable Anuruddha and
his friends met every five nights to speak about the
Dhamma, lay-Buddhist communities should have regular
assemblies based on the Dhamma. For example to hear
Dhamma talks, to discuss the Dhamma or to resolve issues
within the community based on the principles of the
Dhamma.
Homeless wandering Sangha
Principle number ten: Just as the Buddha wandered about
without considering himself a part of any particular
community of monks and was thus able to advise and

87

instruct them as an impartial observer, homeless


wandering monks and nuns should never stay in any
particular place for too long and wander from laycommunity to lay-community as impartial outsiders with
three functions: i) to teach the Dhamma; ii) to receive
offerings; and iii) to act as an informal Buddhist
judiciary, by giving opinions about how to resolve
conflicts within lay-communities without enforcing their
opinions, but simply leaving it to each community to act
on their opinions in accordance with their own conscience
and respect for the Dhamma.
Summary
So there are Ten principles to be drawn from the Sutta on
the Imperfections, that is 1) dont be afraid to leave
mainstream society behind, 2) decentralise, 3) prioritise
food security, 4) prioritise social harmony, 5) practice
goodwill, 6) live in material simplicity, 7) expect deep
cooperative community to be joyful and hard work, 8)
respect the elders 9) hold regular meetings and 10) know
that it is a duty of the homeless wandering Sangha to
assist laypeople maintain peace in their communities.
Great disruption
My views on what needs to be done in this burning and
bubbling world are very radical. Whether you agree will
depend on how bad you think things will get. My view is
that the complacent and luxurious lifestyles that Western
countries have grown used to since the end of World War
II will hit major disruptions within the next decade and
the ensuing international chaos will be worn by at least
one or two generations to come.
But the real problem is this. The danger that the true
Dhamma will not survive such a storm, given that its
already only hanging on by a bare thread, is too strong
for a good monk to ignore. Once the true Dhamma is lost,
then it may well be another billion lifetimes before we
get another shot at the door of the Deathless. And who
knows what unwholesomeness we may indulge in during that
time. Who knows what forms of rebirth we may take as a

88

consequence. If that idea doesnt frighten you, it


should. It scares the willies out of me.
Archipelago of enlightened resilience
So to protect the true Dhamma, we are working towards
creating a network of islands of enlightened local
resilience in the form of a network of intentional Plain
Buddhist Permaculture Villages in the Hunter Valley. We
envisage that each village would be a home to around
forty to sixty people of all ages, ideally from three or
four multigenerational households, all living in
accordance with Plain Buddhist principles, and working
the land in accordance with Permaculture principles
enhanced by Buddhist ethics and insights.
This is more than doable technically. Actually, from a
technical perspective, we can green the deserts and
transform the entire world into a network of more or less
self-sufficient local economies that sustain and
regenerate the land and all its creatures. The stonewall
to progress is not technical deficiency, but good old
human greed, hatred and delusion.
Sustainable and regenerative agriculture is very humanlabour intensive, and unfortunately most modern people
have developed allergies to doing hard yakka with their
own two hands. Because of greed, hatred and delusion,
given a choice between a better, but simpler and more
manually intensive life and a deranged life filled with
consumer entertainments and conveniences, the great
masses can only be expected to take up the latter.
But, thats ok. We can be content to leave the masses
behind. Slowly but surely, this homeless Sangha is
building up a solid congregation of faithful and wise
Buddhists and Buddhist sympathisers to help do the work
that needs to be done.
Tent Villages
As an intermediate step towards the establishment of
permanent Plain Buddhist communities, we will be running
fifteen day Plain Buddhist Tent Villages on organic farms

89

around the Hunter Valley. We will be holding the first


such Tent Village in July. These will be led and tutored
by experienced homeless wandering Buddhist monks and
nuns.
And then, in order to run Tent Villages on a regular
basis, we will need more homeless and wandering Buddhist
monks and nuns. In one month's time, another monk will
join me, and perhaps in another four months time, there
will be another two on top of that.
The Buddha went back
In closing, I want to share one aspect of the quarrel at
Kosambi that is not related in the Sutta on the
Imperfections. That is, eventually the Buddha returned to
Kosambi and helped the monks resolve their dispute.
I consider myself a creative realist. That is, we neither
have the power to defy the momentum of history
completely, but nor are we abject slaves to fate. I think
were in for quite a ride over the coming decades, but my
faith is that if Buddhists and Buddhist sympathisers work
together, the power of the Dhamma will see us through. We
cant halt the slide of the whole world, but we can
create islands of enlightened local resilience. And, in
time, many will come to those islands. My faith is that
just as the Buddha returned to Kosambi after things had
settled down a bit, after the turmoil of this era wanes,
Plain Buddhist communities will become the seed for the
next phase of humane and enlightened civilisation, and
the Buddha Sasana will live to deliver a few more
generations from Samsara yet.
The Dhamma is founded on the capacity of human beings and
gods to set ideals, hold them in mind and achieve them
with determined striving. Here is a vision of what
community life can be like when the Dhamma is strong.
So please close your eyes and imagine: a country region
revitalised not by the force of the dollar but by
communities of real human beings drinking deep from the
wells of harmony in individuality, society, ecology and

90

spirituality. Communities led and composed by people who


have not forgotten that the real purpose of life is the
development of long-term happiness and freedom from
suffering for everyone.
The people here are driven, discipline and hardworking;
courageous and respectful; compassionate and generous;
frugal, virtuous and wise. Husbands and wives, children
and parents and grandparents live together in harmony.
The people look after the land and the land looks after
the people.
Families, businesses and farms are strong. The children
are safe and well educated. And there are plenty of
peaceful, healthy and long-term jobs for everyone. We
know our neighbours well, but were not drowning in
gossip.
We have what we need and are content, reminding ourselves
always that just enough is more than plenty. Thus, debt
stress is a thing of the past. So too are depression,
anxiety, ADD, chronic fatigue and a host of other modern
diseases of civilisation. We no longer rely on
pharmaceuticals and alcohol to get through the day.
We are a happy people, well versed and trained in the
deep culture of plain living taught by the Buddha. Of
course, not everything is perfect. But things are pretty
darned good. And we do remember the days before the
homeless Buddhist monks and nuns wandered into town, the
dark days when the sky was dusty and our hearts were
hungry, and we all agree that we shall never return to a
life lived for the sake of the dollar and we shall ever
live for the sake of cultivating happiness, peace and
freedom for all living beings.
That is my Dhamma offering to you this evening. Let us
sit together for a few moments to contemplate what has
been said. May all beings here both seen and unseen
celebrate the goodness and merits of this Dhamma talk,
and may it lead to the long term happiness and welfare of
all living beings. Sadhu. Sadhu. Sadhu.

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Plain Buddhist Manifesto (VI):


Education
Welcome
Spiritual friends, fellows and companions. Lend me your
ears once more.
Welcome to talk number six out of a series of eight
entitled A Plain Buddhist Manifesto.
To recap: Talk number one was an overview. Therein, we
set out the overall context. That is, a world where
orthodox Buddhism has lost its way, and where global
civilisation is in terminal decline. And we proposed
Plain Buddhism as a powerful response to both of these
problems.
We set out the difference between Plain Buddhism and
orthodox Buddhism. Plain Buddhism starts with the Pali
Suttas. We bring to the Suttas a plain, common sense and
direct approach to interpretation. And then we emphasize
five thematic undercurrents to the Suttas that make their
teachings particularly well-suited to dealing with the
problems of the modern age: that is 1) concreteness and
reviewability, 2) integrity and consistency, 3)
renunciation and contentment, 4) deep cooperative
community, and 5) belief in kamma and rebirth.
Plain Buddhism becomes a Plain Buddhist Manifesto when we
describe what happens when we apply the principles of
Plain Buddhism to transforming the foundations of
civilisation: that is, food and clothing, shelter and
medicine, family, community, education and homeless
wandering Buddhist monks and nuns.
In talk number two we spoke about a Plain Buddhist
approach to food and clothing. We said that the Buddha
taught that food is not for taste but for nutrition. The
four principles of plain food are: 1) eat food with plain
flavours in plain eating environments with plain eating
habits, 2) eat food that is fresh, local and organic, 3)

92

be as vegetarian as possible given health constraints and


4) abstain from alcohol and intoxicants.
We said that the Buddha taught that clothing is to be
worn for protection from the elements and as a social
grace, not for vanity. The four principles of plain
clothing are: 1) develop and wear your own life uniform,
2) wear clothing that is high quality, long-lasting,
dignified and ideally second hand to avoid getting
involved with fashion, 3) take advantage of the
opportunities to share the Dhamma created by your plain
clothing, and 4) move towards a life uniform composed of
all white clothing.
In talk number three we spoke about a Plain Buddhist
approach to shelter and medicine. We said that the
Buddha taught that shelter is for protection from the
elements and seclusion, not for the sake of financial
investment. The four principles of plain shelter are 1)
live in multigenerational households, 2) live in a small
homes, 3) build using recycled and natural materials and
4) live in intentional communities.
We also said that the Buddha taught that medicine is for
the mitigation of the pain of illness for the
maximization of good health, not for the sake of mere
short term relief. The four principles of plain medicine
are 1) use less pain-killers, 2) use more herbal
medicines, 3) stop looking for medical cures to old age
and death and 4) dont make profits out of medicine.
In talk number four we spoke about a Plain Buddhist
approach to family. We said that the Buddha taught that
peaceful and harmonious family life is won through the
maintenance of reciprocal responsibilities between family
members. We focused on the most important set of
responsibilities, that is those existing between parents
and children.
Children have five responsibilities to their parents: 1)
to support them, 2) to do their societal duties, 3) to
maintain the family traditions, 4) to make themselves

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worthy of their inheritance, and 5) to make offerings to


departed parents.
Parents have five responsibilities to their children: 1)
to restrain them from the bad, 2) to encourage them in
the good, 3) to train them in a craft, 4) to bind them to
suitable partners, and 5) to pass on their inheritance at
the right time.
In talk number five we spoke about a Plain Buddhist
approach to community. We said that Plain Buddhist
communities are islands of enlightened local resilience
where people live together in material simplicity and
deep cooperation based upon the teachings in the Pali
Suttas, and we pointed out ten principles drawn from the
Sutta on the Imperfections for the establishment and
maintenance of Plain Buddhist communities: 1) do not fear
leaving the mainstream, 2) decentralise, 3) prioritise
food security, 4) prioritise social harmony, 5) practice
goodwill and love for each other, 6) live in material
simplicity, 7) expect community life to be hard but
joyous work, 8) respect the true elders, 9) meet
regularly based on the Dhamma, and 10) know that homeless
wandering monks and nuns have a duty to help lay people
maintain harmony within their communities.
Introduction
Tonight we will discuss education from a Plain Buddhist
perspective. Plain Buddhist education is for the sake of
teaching the skills necessary for living meaningful and
happy lives that lead to the attainment of Nibbana. Plain
Buddhist education is a multifaceted, all emcompassing
and integrated process aimed at the cultivation of
wisdom, known as panna, which I define as well-rounded
and deep intelligence that leads to Nibbana.
Plain Buddhist education works on three levels at once.
On the first level, monks and nuns receive teachings from
the Pali Suttas and from fully enlightened monks and
nuns. On the second level, lay people receive teachings
from monks and nuns. And on the third level, children

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receive teachings from parents and lay-teachers with the


support of monks and nuns.
Level One
In the first and highest level of Plain Buddhist
education, monks and nuns consider themselves to be
students of the Pali Suttas and of other monks and nuns
who are fully enlightened. But we wont say anything more
about that tonight as we will speak about that in next
weeks talk.
Level Two
In the second level of Plain Buddhist education, laymen
and laywomen learn from monks and nuns about how to live
meaningful and happy lives through the cultivation of
saddha, sila, caga and panna, that is, faith, virtue,
generosity and wisdom.
Teaching Faith
All true education starts with saddha, faith, that is the
ability to trust that someone else understands things
better than we do. Thus, in order to effectively take on
the role of educator, monks and nuns should first inspire
laypeople with faith that we actually do understand the
way to live meaningful and happy lives better than lay
people do. We should do this by 1) the concreteness and
reviewability of our teachings, 2) the consistency and
integrity of our behaviour, 3) our commitment to
renunciation and contentment, 4) our ability to live
happily in deeply cooperative community with each other,
and 5) our unflagging advocacy of the Buddhas teaching
on kamma and rebirth.
Teaching Wisdom
Faith must always come together with panna, wisdom. If it
does not, then faith robs people of the ability to live
happy and meaningful lives by depriving them of the
ability to think for themselves. So monks and nuns should
promote wisdom by teaching lay people the good life in a
rational and reviewable manner.

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Mainstream society is completely irrational and perverse


in its understanding of the good life. The mainstream
understanding of good and bad has degenerated into this:
more money is good and less money is bad.
Every mainstream element of our society has fallen under
the sway of this childish thinking, including mainstream
education. In fact, mainstream education is at the
forefront of this fall: it is used as a propaganda
machine to indoctrinate people into the Gospel of the
Dollar.
This is achieved by systematically cutting people off
from real life, by cloistering them inside classrooms, by
drumming them with useless academic learning, by
compartmentalising them through overspecialisation, and
by sanctioning them for thinking or acting outside the
square, all the while, brazenly proclaiming that the
system is supportive of critical independent thinking.
This turns human beings into unintelligent and pliant
sheep, albeit sheep with phDs and impressive salaries,
unable to think for themselves and bound by a
superstitious faith in materialism and the pursuit of
money as the solution to all ills.
But from time to time, common sense is awakened, and we
ask ourselves with wisdom, Whats the point of making
money when the cost is individual, social, ecological and
spiritual breakdown and misery? In other words, we ask
that thundering and wise question, What is the point of
life when it only leads to more suffering?
And when people start waking up in this way, it is the
job of monks and nuns to encourage further growth in that
wisdom by pointing out that, actually, because all beings
wish to be happy and free from suffering, rationally
speaking, the good life must consist of creating longterm happiness and freedom from suffering for all living
beings, whether or not it makes money.
Monks and nuns can speak with authority on this matter
because of the way we live. Because of our homeless and

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ascetic lifestyle, we know without a shadow of a doubt


that after a surprisingly low threshold, money and
material things dont bring happiness, and furthermore
surprisingly soon after that threshold is crossed, money
and material things are poisonous to true happiness.
Actually, we need very little in terms of food, clothing,
shelter and medicine and should spend the bulk of our
time and energy on the cultivation of family, community
and education.
So when we think about the good life rationally, wisdom
restrains us from making choices on the basis of the
dollar, and frees us to act in accordance with moral
conscience. Morality cannot be separated from education
and wisdom. A key to education which is not appreciated
at all by the mainstream is that wisdom cannot flourish
unless supported by clear moral conscience.
So wisdom grows best by way of Plain Buddhist education.
This is because homeless and wandering monks and nuns
live with sufficient freedom from money and material
things to authoritatively teach the beneficial effects of
renunciation and moral conscience. When there are no
monks and nuns devoted to living without money and home,
then the mainstream education system can be expected to
fall into darkness, and it has.
Thus, the mainstream fears those who think and teach in
terms of conscientious spirituality because the resulting
wisdom is revolutionary and empowering.
But, before we get too excited about this revolutionary
approach to education, we should note that we need have
more than just abstract faith and wisdom to create
lasting transformation both individually and
collectively. To create lasting transformation, we must
act on and manifest our wisdom and faith in our everyday
life.
Generosity
Thus, monks and nuns should also teach laypeople to
practice caga, generosity. We monks and nuns should

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instruct laypeople to lives of giving, sharing, service


and sacrifice, discipline and creativity, taking only
what you need to maintain yourselves, your dependents and
to carry out your proper societal duties.
Furthermore you should ensure that whatever income you do
generate is generated in the right way, through the sweat
of your own brows and strength of your own arms, not by
way of passive income skimmed off the hard work of
others.
And then, you should give the rest away to those who are
in need. And you should do so fearlessly, because kamma
and rebirth are real, and thus please have confidence
that wise generosity is the best way to create long term
security in this life and the next.
Virtue
And then, monks and nuns should also teach laypeople to
practice sila, virtue. In the main, this means keeping
the ten principals of the good life:
1) To abandon the killing of living beings, and to live
compassionate for all living beings instead;
2) To abandon taking what is not given, and to be content
and generous instead;
3) To not commit sexual misconduct, but to be faithful,
chaste and even celibate instead;
4) To not speak falsehood, but to be reliable and
trustworthy instead;
5) To not speak divisively, but to speak words that
promote friendship and forgiveness instead;
6) To not speak harshly, but to speak words that are
gentle, pleasing to the ear and go to the heart instead;
7) To not speak idle chatter, but to speak words that are
timely, meaningful and beneficial instead;

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8) To not have a materialistic and covetous mind, but to


cultivate a mind of renunciation, generosity and
contentment instead;
9) To not have a nasty mind, but to cultivate a mind of
goodwill and compassion instead; and
10) To not deny the teaching of kamma and rebirth, but to
investigate it and affirm it through investigation
instead.
Then monks and nuns should also teach laypeople to be
virtuous by abandoning the six ways of ruining wealth:
that is by not
1) Taking alcohol and intoxicants
2) Haunting the streets at night
3) Frequenting parties and festivals
4) Engaging in gambling and intoxication
5) Associating with bad friends and
6) Being lazy.
And then monks and nuns should also teach laypeople to
not engage in the five kinds of wrong livelihood:
1) Trading
2) Trading
3) Trading
4) Trading
5) Trading

in
in
in
in
in

living beings
weapons
meat
intoxicants and
poisons

And, of course, there is much much more that was taught


by the Buddha in relation to virtue. But that will do for
now.
So, by practising virtue and generosity in everyday life,
a person becomes sensitised to the fact that, long-term
outcomes of actions that are virtuous and generous are
qualitatively superior to the long-term outcomes of
actions that are unvirtuous and stingy. Furthermore, we
also become sensitised to the fact that the quality of
the happiness that comes from practising the Dhamma is
more subtle, pure, beautiful and stable than the
happiness of sensuality and material things. This is like
the difference between the pleasure of drinking water

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from a pure mountain spring and the pleasure of skulling


a can of Coca Cola.
Over time, a person sees and understands for herself
that, in line with the Buddhas teaching, there are
timeless and universal principles of behaviour that can
define in rational and concrete terms what leads to longterm happiness and what leads to long-term suffering. To
understand the good life in this way is to grow in both
wisdom and faith simultaneously. Thus wisdom and faith
lead to virtue and generosity and virtue and generosity
lead to wisdom and faith. These factors blend into each
other to create a stable and self-amplifying learning
cycle.
The five hindrances
To further empower laypeople to live meaningful and happy
lives, monks and nuns should also teach lay people that
wisdom and memory are not predetermined and set by
genetics, brain chemicals and age but can be improved
upon by all people no matter how young or old, talented
or untalented, by abandoning the five hindrances.
This is from the Sangarava Sutta:
Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was
living in Savatthi in Anathapindikas Park in Jetas
Grove. Then the brahmin Sagarava approached the Blessed
One and exchanged greetings with him. When they had
concluded their greetings and cordial talk, he sat down
to one side and said to the Blessed One:
Master Gotama, ... What is the cause and reason why
sometimes those hymns that have not been recited over a
long period recur to the mind, let alone those that have
been recited?
Brahmin, when one dwells with a mind that is not
obsessed by sensual desire, not overwhelmed by sensual
desire, and one understands in real life the escape from
arisen sensual desire, on that occasion one knows and

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sees in real life ones own good, and the good of others,
and the good of both. On that occasion even those hymns
that have not been recited over a long period recur to
the mind, let alone those that have been recited.

Suppose, brahmin, there is a bowl of water not mixed with


lac, turmeric, blue dye, or crimson dye. If a man with
good sight were to examine his own facial reflection in
it, he would know and see it in real life. So too,
brahmin, when one dwells with a mind that is not obsessed
by sensual desire not overwhelmed by sensual desire, and
one understands in real life the escape from arisen
sensual desire, on that occasion one knows and sees in
real life ones own good, and the good of others, and the
good of both. On that occasion even those hymns that have
not been recited over a long period recur to the mind,
let alone those that have been recited.

Again, brahmin, when one dwells with a mind that is not


obsessed by ill will, not overwhelmed by ill will, and
one understands in real life the escape from arisen ill
will, on that occasion one knows and sees in real life
ones own good, and the good of others, and the good of
both. On that occasion even those hymns that have not
been recited over a long period recur to the mind, let
alone those that have been recited.

Suppose, brahmin, there is a bowl of water not heated


over a fire, not bubbling, not boiling. If a man with
good sight were to examine his own facial reflection in
it, he would know and see it in real life. So too,
brahmin, when one dwells with a mind that is not obsessed
by ill will , not overwhelmed by ill will, and one
understands in real life the escape from arisen ill will,

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on that occasion one knows and sees in real life ones


own good, and the good of others, and the good of both.
On that occasion even those hymns that have not been
recited over a long period recur to the mind, let alone
those that have been recited.

Again, brahmin, when one dwells with a mind that is not


obsessed by laziness and sleepiness, not overwhelmed by
laziness and sleepiness, and one understands in real life
the escape from arisen laziness and sleepiness, on that
occasion one knows and sees in real life ones own good,
and the good of others, and the good of both. On that
occasion even those hymns that have not been recited over
a long period recur to the mind, let alone those that
have been recited.

Suppose, brahmin, there is a bowl of water not covered


over with water plants and algae. If a man with good
sight were to examine his own facial reflection in it, he
would know and see it in real life. So too, brahmin, when
one dwells with a mind that is not obsessed by laziness
and sleepiness, not overwhelmed by laziness and
sleepiness, and one understands in real life the escape
from arisen laziness and sleepiness, on that occasion one
knows and sees in real life ones own good, and the good
of others, and the good of both. On that occasion even
those hymns that have not been recited over a long period
recur to the mind, let alone those that have been
recited.

Again, brahmin, when one dwells


obsessed by over-stimulation and
by over-stimulation and anxiety,
real life the escape from arisen

with a mind that is not


anxiety, not overwhelmed
and one understands in
over-stimulation and

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anxiety, on that occasion one knows and sees in real life


ones own good, and the good of others, and the good of
both. On that occasion even those hymns that have not
been recited over a long period recur to the mind, let
alone those that have been recited.

Suppose, brahmin, there is a bowl of water not stirred by


the wind, without ripples, without swirls, not churned
into wavelets. If a man with good sight were to examine
his own facial reflection in it, he would know and see it
in real life. So too, brahmin, when one dwells with a
mind that is not obsessed by over-stimulation and
anxiety, not overwhelmed by over-stimulation and anxiety,
and one understands in real life the escape from arisen
over-stimulation and anxiety, on that occasion one knows
and sees in real life ones own good, and the good of
others, and the good of both. On that occasion even
those hymns that have not been recited over a long period
recur to the mind, let alone those that have been
recited.

Again, brahmin, when one dwells with a mind that is not


obsessed by moral confusion, not overwhelmed by moral
confusion, and one understands in real life the escape
from arisen moral confusion, on that occasion one knows
and sees in real life ones own good, and the good of
others, and the good of both. On that occasion even
those hymns that have not been recited over a long period
recur to the mind, let alone those that have been
recited.

Suppose, brahmin, there is a bowl of water that is clear,


serene, limpid, set out in the light. If a man with good
sight were to examine his own facial reflection in it, he

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would know and see it in real life. So too, brahmin, when


one dwells with a mind that is not obsessed by moral
confusion, not overwhelmed by moral confusion, and one
understands in real life the escape from arisen moral
confusion, on that occasion one knows and sees in real
life ones own good, and the good of others, and the good
of both. On that occasion even those hymns that have not
been recited over a long period recur to the mind, let
alone those that have been recited.

This, brahmin, is the cause and reason why even those


hymns that have not been recited over a long period recur
to the mind, let alone those that have been recited.

So here abandoning the five hindrances is described as


the key to developing an outstanding memory and the
wisdom to understand what is truly constitutes the good
life. So if we want to systematically and deliberately
develop a mind that is truly outstanding, beyond the ken
of ordinary people, the mind of a polymath, a mind that
is deeply retentive, balanced and intelligent, then the
key is to abandon the five hindrances on deeper and
deeper levels.
Now here is how to abandon the five hindrances. The
escape from sensual desire is contemplation of the
unattractive side of sensuality. The escape from ill will
is contemplation of goodwill, compassion, appreciation
and patient understanding. The escape from laziness and
sleepiness is contemplation of ones life mission and the
brevity of human life. The escape from overstimulation
and anxiety is contemplation of the peaceful and serene
side of things. The escape from moral confusion is
careful investigation of the difference between right and
wrong, that is the difference between what leads to longterm happiness and what leads to long-term suffering.

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When I say contemplation, I simply mean the cultivation


of peaceful, calm and deliberate thinking. This can and
should be done in everyday life as well as on the
meditation cushion. For example, we should contemplate
how all drivers suffer while stuck in peak hour traffic
instead of brooding on ill will. We should contemplate
the way animals live and die in factory farms while
eating meat instead of delighting in the sensual
pleasures of the meat. We should contemplate how much we
want to achieve in this precious and short human life
when waking up in the morning instead of giving in to
laziness and sleepiness. We should contemplate how
peaceful the earth looks when seen from the moon, when
reading the politics section of the newspaper instead of
becoming shaken by over-stimulation and anxiety. And we
should contemplate and investigate the probable long-term
results of this or that action when making difficult
decisions instead of being paralysed with moral
confusion.
Many of you have been taught that meditation is to stop
thinking. You have been taught incorrectly. Thats
something that can only be done safely by well-practising
monks and nuns. It is not necessary at the level of
ordinary lay-practitioners and not feasible. What lay
practitioners should do is stop thinking in unwholesome
ways that inflame the hindrances and take up thinking in
wholesome ways that abandon the hindrances. In other
words, keep thinking, but in the right way and not in the
wrong way.
Also, please always remember that these contemplations
can only be undertaken deeply by a person who has
dedicated their whole life to the cultivation of faith,
virtue, generosity and wisdom in accordance with the
Buddhas teaching.
So thats enough in relation to the second level of Plain
Buddhist education. Lets move onto level three.
Level Three

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In the third level of Plain Buddhist education children


learn from parents and teachers with the assistance of
monks and nuns. Monks and nuns should never be the
primary carers of children. This is for the sake of both
children and monks and nuns. Children should be brought
up in families, not institutions. And monks and nuns
should be homeless wanderers devoted to attaining
Nibbana, not administrators of institutions.
Lead by example
First, we all should lead by example. Just as monks and
nuns need to conduct themselves in inspiring ways in to
earn the faith of lay people, so too parents and teachers
should conduct themselves in line with the Buddhas
teaching to earn the respect of their children.
To be a lay follower of the Buddha is no ordinary thing.
Laywomen and laymen comprise two parts of the fourfold
community of the Buddha, the rightly and fully-awakened
one, the greatest and wisest being there ever was and
ever shall be. Lay Buddhists should consider themselves,
alongside monks and nuns, the upholders of all that is
good and worth treasuring inside of human civilisation. I
invite you to strive to not just be good people, but the
very best people that society has to offer.
Parents and teachers who proudly identify with being
Buddhists in this way, and who act virtuously by
practising the ten principles of the good life,
abandoning the six ways of ruining wealth, abandoning the
five forms of wrong livelihood and abandoning the five
hindrances, cultivating faith, virtue, generosity and
wisdom, will have no trouble garnering the respect of
children. Once you have their respect, they will learn
many wholesome habits by exposure and imitation alone.
Direct instruction from parents
However, parents should not only lead by example, they
should give direct and unambiguous instructions to
children about the basics of faith, virtue, generosity
and wisdom in line with what you have understood for

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yourselves from Dhamma talks by monks and nuns and from


personal practice and study.
If your children are still infants, you should get them
used to being taught the Dhamma by you. Do this by
regularly giving tasks of real relevance to family life.
Patiently give them direct instructions about how to
perform the tasks in line with the Dhamma, supervise,
give feedback and answer questions. For example, three
year olds can be taught to sweep leaves in the garden
without hurting the ants.
The trick to parenting and teaching is the art of gentle
and patient speech. Most parents do not realise that they
speak with frustration and impatience when they give
instructions to their children, and thus over time, their
children build up aversion to being instructed. But if
instructions are always given patiently and gently,
children take great joy in being instructed.
Another trick for parents is do not ask children to carry
out tasks. Instruct them to carry out tasks. That is,
dont say, Jonny, can you please do the dishes for me?
Say instead, Jonny, I want you to do the dishes,
please. Never start your sentence with the word
Can .... Its disempowering. When work needs to be
done, dont give children a choice. Trust me, your
children will be happier when they just know what you
expect from them. Also, they will feel safer knowing that
you feel comfortable wielding authority over them.
Teenagers
Now what should you do if your children are already
teenagers or even older than that? Exactly the same
thing, except you should expect much more resistance and
must make an even stronger resolution to never break into
anger or harsh speech. Also, it is important to ensure
that the tasks you create are truly relevant to the life
of the family and constantly communicate to them that the
family is a team and that the whole family needs everyone
to play their part.

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From time to time, you will need to demonstrate to


recalcitrant teenagers that their part is actually
essential by deliberately allowing things to become
dysfunctional when they dont pull their weight. For
example, if you make paying the gas bill a task for your
daughter, and she fails to do it. Then let the gas get
cut-off.
The most important thing here is that the parents as the
adult leaders of the family stay calm and peaceful as it
happens. If there is more than one child, then the other
children must be instructed to not get angry as well.
They will, of course they will. They are children. The
point is this: Dont you, the parents, act like children
too. The job of adults is to restrain themselves and to
teach children to restrain themselves.
This is the best way to teach children personal
responsibility. That is, punish children by allowing the
consequences of their own actions to fall on their own
heads, and on the heads of those they love but, of
course, without anger or resentment. Everyone in the
family should think of it as noble growing pains that the
family must go through together in order to help the
recalcitrant child and to grow stronger as a family.
Schooling
Now, in relation to schooling of children, Plain Buddhist
schooling is best done outside the mainstream state or
private school systems. Both of these systems prioritise
money over humanity and are just going to teach your
children unwholesome behaviours and confused ideas about
what really matters in life. Thus, at least for now,
Plain Buddhist schooling means homeschooling.
Here, in brief, are five essential principles of Plain
Buddhist Schooling.
1) Small classes are beautiful. Education is about
cultivating wisdom, all- round and deep intelligence.
This is a necessarily organic process. It simply cannot
happen properly inside large institutions. It can only

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happen through vibrant master-apprentice relationships.


There has to be lots of face-to-face interactions between
master and apprentice and that means small classes of no
more than fifteen students per teacher.
2) We need to teach whats actually relevant. We need to
understand the future that our children will be living in
and give them the skills they need to survive and thrive.
Their future will be one of great economic contraction
and political instability where food security will be
issue number one.
So we must teach them how to grow food using sustainable
and regenerative agricultural methods like Permaculture.
And we must teach them how to use their own two hands to
do it, because we are entering into an era of drastic
energy descent. There is nothing to be gained by learning
how to solve complex differential equations to get
university places that probably wont exist in another
ten years time.
And even if we were not living in such dire times,
schooling should always be limited to teaching students
the general skills that will enable them to teach
themselves whatever they need to know, in all the
different stages of life, as they go. That way we avoid
the massive levels of redundancy in the current schooling
system. Actually, a person only needs to master six
general skills in order to learn everything else: 1)
respect and humility, 2) self-discipline, 3) functional
literacy, 4) functional numeracy, 5) good memory and 6)
being well-spoken.
3) We need teachers who are willing to teach on very low
wages. Education is only effective when it is conducted
by teachers that teach as a labour of love. There is no
better way to drive up the numbers of mere pretenders
looking for a livelihood and drive out the teachers who
actually care about the welfare of future generations
than paying teachers too much money. Indeed, in my
opinion, anything above the taxable threshold is too
much.

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Teachers, like monks and nuns, are the proper leaders of


society. Thus they must be the very best society has to
offer, and they must honour their position by living
lives of purity. They need to live in deep material
simplicity to do this. Of course, not as simple as
homeless wandering monks and nuns, but the simplicity of
Gandhi is highly recommended. In recompense, they should
be afforded the highest respect and offerings of in-kind
material support so that they need never worry about
their own material needs or those of their dependants.
4) We need to invest in building up the children, not the
equipment and infrastructure around the children. Today,
we are just filling up classrooms with expensive toys and
spoiling the children. All of these so-called
educational toys simply inflame the five hindrances.
Teaching at schools has degenerated into edutaining and
baby-sitting because the five hindrances prevent
students from learning and the teachers from teaching.
Thus we have a mad situation in education where parents
are paying through the nose to give their children access
to fluoro-coloured plastic junk and electronic screens
that dumb them down.
Plain Buddhist schooling, in contrast, requires very
little equipment and infrastructure at all, because it is
based on the understanding that once trained in how to
abandon the hindrances, almost all the equipment that a
student needs to flourish is to be found inside her own
body, voice and mind.
And the fifth principle is that teachers must reclaim
moral authority over their students by being shining
examples of rectitude, patience, compassion and wisdom.
True learning can only happen in environments based on
respect. Thus, moral authority must precede technical
competency as the basis for teacher-student relations.
Summary
In summary, there are three levels of Plain Buddhist
education: 1) monastic to monastic, 2) monastic to
layperson and 3) layperson to layperson.

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What happens in the first level will be elaborated upon


next week. In the second level, monks and nuns teach
laypeople about faith, virtue, generosity and wisdom. In
the third level parents and teachers teach children and
students about faith, virtue, generosity and wisdom and
give them formal schooling based on five principles: 1)
small classes are beautiful, 2) teach what is relevant,
3) teachers should be on low wages, 4) invest in students
not in equipment, and 5) reclaim moral authority.
So that is education from a Plain Buddhist perspective,
education that teaches how to live meaningful and happy
lives through the cultivation of wisdom, all-round and
deep intelligence that leads to Nibbana.
And that is my Dhamma offering to you this evening. Let
us sit together in silence for a few moments to
contemplate what has been said. May all beings here both
seen and unseen celebrate the goodness and merits of this
Dhamma talk, and may it lead to the long term happiness
and welfare of all living beings.
Sadhu. Sadhu. Sadhu.

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Plain Buddhist Manifesto (VII):


Monks and Nuns
Welcome
Spiritual friends, fellows and companions. Lend me your
ears once more.
Welcome to talk number seven in this series of eight
entitled A Plain Buddhist Manifesto.
Review
To recap: Talk number one was an overview. Therein, we
set out the overall context. That is, a world where
orthodox Buddhism has lost its way, and where global
civilisation is in terminal decline. And we proposed
Plain Buddhism as a powerful response to both of these
problems.
We set out the difference between Plain Buddhism and
orthodox Buddhism. Plain Buddhism starts with the Pali
Suttas. We bring to the Suttas a plain, common sense and
direct approach to interpretation. And then we emphasize
five thematic undercurrents to the Suttas that make their
teachings particularly well-suited to dealing with the
problems of the modern age: that is 1) concreteness and
reviewability, 2) integrity and consistency, 3)
renunciation and contentment, 4) deep cooperative
community, and 5) belief in kamma and rebirth.
Plain Buddhism becomes a Plain Buddhist Manifesto when we
describe what happens when we apply the principles of
Plain Buddhism to transforming the foundations of
civilisation: that is, food and clothing, shelter and
medicine, family, community, education and homeless
wandering Buddhist monks and nuns.
In talk number two we spoke about a Plain Buddhist
approach to food and clothing. We said that the Buddha
taught that food is not for taste but for nutrition. The
four principles of plain food are: 1) eat food with plain
flavours in plain eating environments with plain eating

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habits, 2) eat food that is fresh, local and organic, 3)


be as vegetarian as possible given health constraints and
4) abstain from alcohol and intoxicants.
We said that the Buddha taught that clothing is to be
worn for protection from the elements and as a social
grace, not for vanity. The four principles of plain
clothing are: 1) develop and wear your own life uniform,
2) wear clothing that is high quality, long-lasting,
dignified and ideally second hand to avoid getting
involved with fashion, 3) take advantage of the
opportunities to share the Dhamma created by your plain
clothing, and 4) move towards a life uniform composed of
all white clothing.
In talk number three we spoke about a Plain Buddhist
approach to shelter and medicine. We said that the
Buddha taught that shelter is for protection from the
elements and seclusion, not for the sake of financial
investment. The four principles of plain shelter are 1)
create multigenerational households, 2) live in a tiny
home, 3) build using recycled and natural materials and
4) move to an intentional community.
We also said that the Buddha taught that medicine is for
the mitigation of the pain of illness for the
maximization of good health, not for the sake of mere
short term relief. The four principles of plain medicine
are 1) use less pain-killers, 2) use more herbal
medicines, 3) stop looking for medical cures to old age
and death and 4) dont make profits out of medicine.
In talk number four we spoke about a Plain Buddhist
approach to family. We said that the Buddha taught that
peaceful and harmonious family life is won through the
maintenance of reciprocal responsibilities between family
members. We focused on the most important set of
responsibilities, that is those existing between parents
and children.
Children have five responsibilities to their parents: 1)
to support them, 2) to do their societal duties, 3) to
maintain the family traditions, 4) to make themselves

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worthy of their inheritance, and 5) to make offerings to


departed parents.
Parents have five responsibilities to their children: 1)
to restrain them from the bad, 2) to encourage them in
the good, 3) to train them in a craft, 4) to bind them to
suitable partners, and 5) to pass on their inheritance at
the right time.
In talk number five we spoke about a Plain Buddhist
approach to community. We said that Plain Buddhist
communities are islands of enlightened local resilience
where people live together in material simplicity and
deep cooperative community based upon the teachings in
the Pali Suttas, and we pointed out ten principles drawn
from the Sutta on the Imperfections for the establishment
and maintenance of Plain Buddhist communities: 1) do not
fear leaving the mainstream, 2) decentralise, 3)
prioritise food security, 4) prioritise social harmony,
5) practice goodwill and love for each other, 6) live in
material simplicity, 7) expect community life to be hard
but joyous work, 8) respect the true elders, 9) meet
regularly based on the Dhamma, and 10) know that homeless
wandering monks and nuns have a duty to help lay people
maintain harmony within their communities.
In talk number six we spoke about a Plain Buddhist
approach to education. We said that Plain Buddhist
education is for the sake of learning the skills
necessary to living happy and meaningful lives through
the cultivation of panna, well-rounded and deep
intelligence that leads to Nibbana. It operates on three
levels at once 1) monastic to monastic, 2) monastic to
laity and 3) laity to laity. In level one, monks and nuns
receive teachings from the Pali Suttas and other monks
and nuns who are fully-enlightened. In level two, the
laity receives teachings from monks and nuns about faith,
virtue, generosity and wisdom. And in level three,
children receive teachings from parents and teachers with
the assistance of monks and nuns in the background about
faith, virtue, generosity and wisdom. Children also
receive formal schooling based on five principles: 1)

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small classes are beautiful, 2) teach what is relevant,


3) teach on low wages, 4) invest in the children not in
the equipment, 5) reclaim moral authority in the
classrooms.
Tonight we shall speak about a Plain Buddhist approach to
the monastic life.
Introduction
Buddhism has changed significantly over the past two
thousand five hundred years. In this talk we will give a
no-holds-barred, plain-talking, call-a-spade-a-spade
account of how Buddhist monks and nuns should behave. In
this talk I will mostly chant passages of essential
importance from the Pali Suttas. These are passages that
straight-forwardly and unambiguously describe what lay
people ought to expect from their monks and nuns and, of
course, what monks and nuns should expect from
themselves.
Those of you who know the Suttas will recognise many of
these passages. Most of you here will be hearing these
passages for the first time. So, I want everyone to sit
up straight, and listened well, and hear with fresh ears.
I invite everyone to assume that the Buddha was not a
fool with words. I ask you to assume that he was not a
liar or deluded when he said that he taught Dhamma with
the right meaning and phrasing. Let us not assume that
the Buddha would use the word dog to describe a cat or
the word black to describe white or homeless life to
describe life in a home or austerity to describe
luxury.
And as you hear these passages, I also invite you to be
inspired by this possibility: What if these words
recorded in the Suttas are true in a concrete and
reviewable way that is 100% possible to enact in the
twenty-first century?
We start with a conversation between the Venerable Ananda
and a layman recorded in the Sutta on Moggallana the
Guardsman, the Gopaka Moggallana Sutta.

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Is there, Master nanda, any single monk who was


appointed by Master Gotama thus: He will be your refuge
when I am gone, and whom you now have recourse to?
There is no single monk, brahmin, who was appointed by
the Blessed One who knows and sees, accomplished and
rightly and fully awakened, thus: He will be your refuge
when I am gone, and whom we now have recourse to.

But is there, Master nanda, any single monk who has been
chosen by the Sangha and appointed by a number of elder
monks thus: He will be our refuge after the Blessed One
has gone, and whom you now have recourse to?

There is no single monk, brahmin, who has been chosen by


the Sangha and appointed by a number of elder monks thus:
He will be our refuge after the Blessed One has gone,
and whom we now have recourse to.

But if you have no refuge, Master nanda, what is the


cause for your concord?

We are not without a refuge, brahmin. We have a refuge;


we have the Dhamma as our refuge. ...

Brahmin, the Blessed One who knows and sees,


accomplished and rightly and fully awakened, has
prescribed the course of training for monks and he has
laid down the Ptimokkha. On the Uposatha day as many of
us as live in dependence upon a single village district
meet together in unison, and when we meet we ask one who
knows the Ptimokkha to recite it. If a monk remembers an
offence or a transgression while the Ptimokkha is being
recited, we make him act in accordance with the Dhamma,

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in accordance with the instructions. It is not the worthy


ones that make us act; it is the Dhamma that makes us
act.

So, Buddhism is not a guru teaching. When people ask me


who my teacher is, I dont say my teacher is the Dalai
Lama, because that would make me a Dalai Lammist. I dont
say that my teacher is Ajahn Brahmavamso, for that would
make me a Brahmavamsist. I say that my teacher is the
Buddha. And because the Buddha is my teacher, that makes
me a Buddhist.
Nonetheless, many say, the Buddha has passed away, and
therefore someone alive today needs to stand in his
shoes. So to make things perfectly clear, we should
recall these words of the Buddha uttered by him just
before he died, words recorded in the Great Sutta on the
Final Release, the Mahaparinibbana Sutta.
Then the Blessed One said to Venerable Ananda, "Now, if
it occurs to any of you 'The teaching has lost its
authority; we are without a Teacher' do not view it in
that way. Ananda, whatever Dhamma and Discipline I have
taught and formulated for you, that will be your Teacher
when I am gone.
The question then, is where can we find accurate
recordings of the Dhamma and Discipline that the Buddha
taught and formulated for us? The answer is simple. The
record that is backed by the most historical evidence,
which is most complete, is the Pali Suttas. The Pali
Suttas are not perfect, but clearly, theyre the best
weve got. And furthermore the experience of at least
this monk is that the instructions in the Pali Suttas
really work.
So for a Plain Buddhist monk or nun, the teacher is the
Pali Suttas.
Then, we may ask, do the Suttas leave any room for
following living masters? As to that we return to the

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Venerable Anandas replies as recorded in the Sutta on


Moggallana the Guardsman, the Gopakamoggallana Sutta.
There are, brahmin, ten qualities inspiring confidence
that have been declared by the Blessed One who knows and
sees, accomplished and rightly and fully awakened. When
these qualities are found in anyone among us, we honour,
respect, revere, and venerate him, and live in dependence
on him honouring and respecting him. What are the ten?
(1) Here, brahmin, a monk is virtuous, he dwells
restrained with the restraint of the Ptimokkha, he is
perfect in conduct and resort, and seeing danger in the
slightest faults, he trains himself by undertaking the
training precepts.

(2) He has learned much, remembers what he has learned,


and consolidates what he has learned. Such teachings as
are good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good
in the end, with the right meaning and phrasing, and
which affirm a holy life that is utterly perfect and pure
such teachings as these he has learned much of,
remembered, mastered verbally, investigated with the
mind, and understood deeply from an all-round
perspective.

(3) He is content with his robes, almsfood, resting


place, and medicinal requisites.

(4) He obtains at will, without trouble or difficulty,


the four jhnas that constitute the higher mind and
provide a pleasant abiding here and now.

(5) He wields the various kinds of supernormal power:


having been one, he becomes many; having been many, he
becomes one; he appears and vanishes; he goes unhindered

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through a wall, through an enclosure, through a mountain


as though through space; he dives in and out of the earth
as though it were water; he walks on water without
sinking as though it were earth; seated cross-legged, he
travels in space like a bird; with his hand he touches
and strokes the moon and sun so powerful and mighty; he
wields bodily mastery even as far as the Brahma-world.

(6) With the divine ear element, which is purified and


surpasses the human, he hears both kinds of sounds, the
divine and the human, those that are far as well as near.

(7) He understands the minds of other beings, of other


persons, having encompassed them with his own mind. He
understands a mind affected by lust as affected by lust
and a mind unaffected by lust as unaffected by lust; he
understands a mind affected by hate as affected by hate
and a mind unaffected by hate as unaffected by hate; he
understands a mind affected by delusion as affected by
delusion and a mind unaffected by delusion as unaffected
by delusion; he understands a contracted mind as
contracted and a distracted mind as distracted; he
understands an expanded mind as expanded and an
unexpanded mind as unexpanded; he understands a surpassed
mind as surpassed and an unsurpassed mind as unsurpassed;
he understands an integrated mind as integrated and an
unintegrated mind as unintegrated; he understands a
liberated mind as liberated and an unliberated mind as
unliberated.
(8) He recollects his manifold past lives, that is, one
birth, two births, three births, four births, five
births, ten births, twenty births, thirty births, forty
births, fifty births, a hundred births, a thousand
births, a hundred thousand births, many aeons of worldcontraction, many aeons of world expansion, many aeons of
world-contraction and expansion:
'There I was so named, of such a clan, with such an
appearance, such was my nutriment, such my experience of

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pleasure and pain, such my life-term; and passing away


from here, I reappeared elsewhere; and there too I was so
named, of such a clan, with such an appearance, such was
my nutriment, such my experience of pleasure and pain,
such my life-term; and passing away from there, I
reappeared here. 'Thus with their aspects and particulars
he recollects his manifold past lives.
(9) With the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses
the human, he sees beings passing away and reappearing,
inferior and superior, fair and ugly, fortunate and
unfortunate, and he understands how beings pass on
according to their actions.

(10) By realising for himself with direct knowledge, he


here and now enters upon and abides in the deliverance of
mind and deliverance by wisdom that are taintless with
the destruction of the taints.

These, brahmin, are the ten qualities inspiring


confidence that have been declared by the Blessed One who
knows and sees, accomplished and rightly and fully
awakened. When these qualities are found in anyone among
us, we honour, respect, revere, and venerate him, and
live in dependence on him honouring and respecting him.

Unfortunately, I dont know any monks or nuns who


actually possess all ten of these qualities. Thus, there
are no living monks or nuns that I turn to as
authoritative teachers for guidance on how to interpret
the Suttas. So, for me, the most practical thing is to
practice with deep authenticity myself to become a monk
with these qualities, so that future generations of monks
and nuns will not face the same problems we do.
It is also sensible to support others, like Kilian here,
in their aspiration to become such a monk as well, so
that should he attain these characteristic before I do,

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then I may turn to him for guidance. And, of course, if


we should attain these characteristics in or around the
same time, then we may rejoice in our mutual good
fortune.
Now, if you were to meet a good monk or nun, would you as
an ordinary layperson be able to recognise them? Yes. The
Buddha certainly thought so. This is from the Canki
Sutta:
Here, Bhradvja, a monk may be living in dependence on
some village or town. Then a householder or a
householder's son goes to him and investigates him in
regard to three kinds of states: in regard to states
based on greed, in regard to states based on hate, and in
regard to states based on delusion:
Are there in this venerable one any states based on
greed such that, with his mind obsessed by those states,
while not knowing he might say, I know, or while not
seeing he might say, I see, or he might urge others to
act in a way that would lead to their long-term harm and
suffering? As he investigates him he comes to know:
There are no such states based on greed in this
venerable one. The bodily behaviour and the verbal
behaviour of this venerable one are not those of one
affected by greed. And the Dhamma that this venerable one
teaches is profound, hard to see and hard to understand,
peaceful and sublime, unattainable by mere reasoning,
subtle, to be experienced by the wise. This Dhamma cannot
easily be taught by one affected by greed.
When he has investigated him and has seen that he is
purified from states based on greed, he next investigates
him in regard to states based on hate: Are there in this
venerable one any states based on hate such that, with
his mind obsessed by those states, while not knowing he
might say, I know, or while not seeing he might say, I
see, or he might urge others to act in a way that would
lead to their long term harm and suffering? As he
investigates him, he comes to know: There are no such
states based on hate in this venerable one. The bodily
behaviour and the verbal behaviour of this venerable one
are not those of one affected by hate. And the Dhamma

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that this venerable one teaches is profound, hard to see


and hard to understand, peaceful and sublime,
unattainable by mere reasoning, subtle, to be experienced
by the wise. This Dhamma cannot easily be taught by one
affected by hate.

When he has investigated him and has seen that he is


purified from states based on hate, he next investigates
him in regard to states based on delusion: Are there in
this venerable one any states based on delusion such
that, with his mind obsessed by those states, while not
knowing he might say, I know, or while not seeing he
might say, I see, or he might urge others to act in a
way that would lead to their long-term harm and
suffering? As he investigates him, he comes to know:
There are no such states based on delusion in this
venerable one. The bodily behaviour and the verbal
behaviour of this venerable one are not those of one
affected by delusion. And the Dhamma that this venerable
one teaches is profound, hard to see and hard to
understand, peaceful and sublime, unattainable by mere
reasoning, subtle, to be experienced by the wise. This
Dhamma cannot easily be taught by one affected by
delusion.

In other words, you can judge the character of your monks


and nuns in the same plain and straightforward way that
you can judge the character any other person: that is, by
carefully observing their behaviour of body and speech
and by making reasonable inferences.
But to give you a head start in your investigations you
should know the essential behaviours of a good monk or a
nun. As to that, the Buddha taught this in the Lesser
Sutta on the Simile of the Elephants Footprint, the
Culahatthipadopama Sutta.
A householder or householders son or one born in some
other clan hears that Dhamma. On hearing the Dhamma he

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acquires faith in the Tathgata. Possessing that faith,


he considers thus: Household life is crowded and dusty;
life gone forth is wide open. It is not easy, while
living in a home, to lead the holy life utterly perfect
and pure as a polished shell. Suppose I shave off my hair
and beard, put on the yellow robe, and go forth from the
home life into homelessness. On a later occasion,
abandoning a small or a large fortune, abandoning a small
or a large circle of relatives, he shaves off his hair
and beard, puts on the yellow robe, and goes forth from
the home life into homelessness.

Noble virtue

Having thus gone forth and possessing the monks training


and way of life, abandoning the killing of living beings,
he abstains from killing living beings; with rod and
weapon laid aside, conscientious, merciful, he abides
compassionate to all living beings. Abandoning the taking
of what is not given, he abstains from taking what is not
given; taking only what is given, expecting only what is
given, by not stealing he abides in purity. Abandoning
incelibacy, he observes celibacy, living apart,
abstaining from the commoners practice of sexual
intercourse.

Abandoning false speech, he abstains from false speech;


he speaks truth, adheres to truth, is trustworthy and
reliable, one who is no deceiver of the world. Abandoning
divisive speech, he abstains from divisive speech; he
does not repeat elsewhere what he has heard here in order
to divide those from these, nor does he repeat here what
he has heard elsewhere in order to divide these from
those; thus he is one who reunites those who are divided,
a promoter of friendships, who enjoys concord, rejoices
in concord, delights in concord, a speaker of words that
promote concord. Abandoning harsh speech, he abstains

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from harsh speech; he speaks such words as are gentle,


pleasing to the ear, and loveable, as go to the heart,
are courteous, desired by many and agreeable to many.
Abandoning idle chatter, he abstains from idle chatter;
he speaks at the right time, speaks what is fact, speaks
on what is good, speaks on the Dhamma and the Discipline;
at the right time he speaks such words as are worth
recording, reasonable, well-defined, and beneficial.

He abstains from working with plants and trees. He


practises eating only one meal a day, abstaining from
eating at night and outside the proper time. He abstains
from dancing, singing, music, and theatrical shows. He
abstains from wearing garlands, smartening himself with
scent, and embellishing himself with unguents. He
abstains from high and luxurious beds.

He abstains from accepting gold and silver. He abstains


from accepting raw grain. He abstains from accepting raw
meat. He abstains from accepting women and girls. He
abstains from accepting men and women slaves. He abstains
from accepting goats and sheep. He abstains from
accepting fowl and pigs. He abstains from accepting
elephants, cattle, horses, and mares. He abstains from
accepting fields and land.

He abstains from going on errands and running messages.


He abstains from buying and selling. He abstains from
false weights, false metals, and false measures. He
abstains from accepting bribes, deceiving, defrauding,
and trickery. He abstains from wounding, murdering,
binding, brigandage, plunder, and violence.

He becomes content with robes to protect his body and


with almsfood to maintain his stomach, and wherever he

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goes, he sets out taking only these with him. Just as a


bird, wherever it goes, flies with its wings as its only
burden, so too the monk becomes content with robes to
protect his body and with almsfood to maintain his
stomach, and wherever he goes, he sets out taking only
these with him. Possessing this aggregate of noble
virtue, he experiences within himself a bliss that is
blameless.

Noble restraint

On seeing a form with the eye, he does not grasp at its


signs and features. Since, if he left the eye faculty
unguarded, evil unwholesome states of covetousness and
grief might invade him, he practises the way of its
restraint, he guards the eye faculty, he undertakes the
restraint of the eye faculty.

On hearing a sound with the ear, he does not grasp at its


signs and features. Since, if he left the ear faculty
unguarded, evil unwholesome states of covetousness and
grief might invade him, he practises the way of its
restraint, he guards the ear faculty, he undertakes the
restraint of the ear faculty.

On smelling an odour with the nose, he does not grasp at


its signs and features. Since, if he left the nose
faculty unguarded, evil unwholesome states of
covetousness and grief might invade him, he practises the
way of its restraint, he guards the nose faculty, he
undertakes the restraint of the nose faculty.

On tasting a flavour with the tongue, he does not grasp


at its signs and features. Since, if he left the tongue

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faculty unguarded, evil unwholesome states of


covetousness and grief might invade him, he practises the
way of its restraint, he guards the tongue faculty, he
undertakes the restraint of the tongue faculty.

On touching a tangible with the body, he does not grasp


at its signs and features. Since, if he left the body
faculty unguarded, evil unwholesome states of
covetousness and grief might invade him, he practises the
way of its restraint, he guards the body faculty, he
undertakes the restraint of the body faculty.

On cognizing a mind-object with the mind, he does not


grasp at its signs and features. Since, if he left the
mind faculty unguarded, evil unwholesome states of
covetousness and grief might invade him, he practises the
way of its restraint, he guards the mind faculty, he
undertakes the restraint of the mind faculty. Possessing
this noble restraint of the faculties, he experiences
within himself a bliss that is unsullied.

Full awareness

He becomes one who acts in full awareness when going


forward and returning; who acts in full awareness when
looking ahead and looking away; who acts in full
awareness when flexing and extending his limbs; who acts
in full awareness when wearing his robes and carrying his
outer robe and bowl; who acts in full awareness when
eating, drinking, consuming food, and tasting; who acts
in full awareness when defecating and urinating; who acts
in full awareness when walking, standing, sitting,
falling asleep, waking up, talking, and keeping silent.

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In other words, outstandingly high levels of virtue,


integrity and consistency, renunciation and contentment,
self-control, restraint and full awareness, should be
considered the minimum levels of practice among Buddhist
monks and nuns. For example, eating only one meal a day
is not a special ascetic practice for hardcore monks, it
is a minimum standard of good behaviour for all monks and
nuns.
In fact, from the Bhaddhali Sutta, we know that, in the
Buddhas day, monks who ate more than one meal per day
were considered recalcitrant monks, not just by the
Buddha and other monks and nuns, but by lay followers as
well. Given that this is the case, we can be sure that
the Buddha would have severely disapproved of monks and
nuns ignoring his instructions in the Lesser Sutta on the
Simile of the Elephants Footprint by becoming farmers,
taking money, acting as big-men, landlords, and
politicians.
Therefore, those among you who would protect the Buddhas
dispensation, please never encourage monks or nuns to
dilute their practice and live like lay people. Please,
for example, never say to a monk who eats only one meal a
day, lives without a temple and wanders long distances
barefooted with no money that he should stop practising
the extreme of self-mortification given that this is
how the Buddha himself lived, to say that this is to
slander the Buddha.
Furthermore, please know that in relation to those monks
and nuns who say that it is acceptable for monks and nuns
to behave in the manner of lay people, because becoming
more like lay people is the most compassionate and
effective way to spread the Dhamma -- such monks and nuns
are worthy of your compassion but not your reverence.
We should have compassion for those monks and nuns who
heap much demerit upon themselves by misrepresenting the
Buddha, and who further infect the Buddhas dispensation
with the disease of luxury and devotion to material

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things and sensuality, and we should have compassion for


ourselves by not following them.
Please help heal the Buddhas dispensation from thousands
of years of misunderstanding and confusion. Help us
rebuild the Sangha in the image of the Sangha we find in
this Sutta -- the Sutta on Monuments to the Dhamma, the
Dhammacetiya Sutta.
Then King Pasenadi entered the dwelling. Prostrating
himself with his head at the Blessed One's feet, he
covered the Blessed One's feet with kisses and caressed
them with his hands, pronouncing his name: "I am King
Pasenadi of Kosala, Bhante; I am King Pasenadi of Kosala,
Bhante."
"But , great king, what reason do you see for doing such
supreme honour to this body and for showing such
friendship?"
"Bhante, I infer according to Dhamma about the Blessed
One: The Blessed One is rightly and fully awakened, the
Dhamma is well proclaimed by the Blessed One, the Sangha
of the Blessed One's disciples is practising the good
way.'
Ordination for Life
Now, Bhante, I see some samanas and brahmins leading a
limited holy life for ten years, twenty years, thirty
years, or forty years, and then on a later occasion I see
them well-groomed and well anointed, with trimmed hair
and beards, enjoying themselves provided and endowed with
the five cords of sensual pleasure.
But here I see monks leading the perfect and pure holy
life as long as life and breath last. Indeed, I do not
see any other holy life elsewhere as perfect and pure as
this. This is why, Bhante, I infer according to Dhamma
about the Blessed One: 'The Blessed One is rightly and
fully awakened, the Dhamma is well proclaimed by the
Blessed One, the Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples is
practising the good way.'

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Living in Concord
"Again, Bhante, kings quarrel with kings, nobles with
nobles, brahmins with brahmins, householders with
householders; mother quarrels with child, child with
mother, father with child, child with father; brother
quarrels with brother, brother with sister, sister with
brother, friend with friend.
But here I see monks living in concord, with mutual
appreciation, without disputing, blending like milk and
water, viewing each other with kindly eyes. I do not see
any other assembly elsewhere with such concord. This too,
Bhante, is why I infer according to Dhamma about the
Blessed One: 'The Blessed One is rightly and fully
awakened, the Dhamma is well proclaimed by the Blessed
One, the Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples is
practising the good way.'
Happy and healthy
"Again, Bhante, I have walked and wandered from park to
park and from garden to garden. There I have seen some
samanas and brahmins who are lean, wretched, unsightly,
jaundiced, with veins standing out on their limbs, such
that people would not want to look at them again.
I have thought: 'Surely these venerable ones are leading
the holy life in discontent, or they have done some evil
deed and are concealing it, so lean, wretched ,
unsightly, jaundiced are they, with veins standing out on
their limbs, such that people would not want to look at
them again.'
I went up to them and asked: 'Why are you venerable ones
so lean, wretched, unsightly, jaundiced, with veins
standing out on your limbs, such that people would not
want to look at you again?' Their reply was: 'It is our
family sickness, great king.'
But here I see monks smiling and
joyful, plainly delighting, their
at ease, unruffled, subsisting on
abiding with mind [as aloof] as a

cheerful, sincerely
faculties fresh, living
what others give,
wild deer's.

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I have thought: 'Surely, these venerable ones perceive


successive states of lofty distinction in the Blessed
One's Dispensation, since they abide thus smiling and
cheerful, sincerely joyful, plainly delighting, their
faculties fresh, living at ease, unruffled, subsisting on
what others give, abiding with mind [as aloof] as a wild
deer's.'
This too, Bhante, is why I infer according to Dhamma
about the Blessed One: 'The Blessed One is rightly and
fully awakened, the Dhamma is well proclaimed by the
Blessed One, the Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples is
practising the good way.'
Loving and being disciplined by the Dhamma
"Again, Bhante, being a head-anointed noble king, I am
able to have executed those who should be executed, to
fine those who should be fined, to banish those who
should be banished. Yet when I am sitting in council,
they break in and interrupt me. Though I say: 'Gentlemen,
do not break in and interrupt me when I am sitting in
council; wait till the end of my speech,' still they
break in and interrupt me.
But here I see while the Blessed One is teaching the
Dhamma to an assembly of several hundred followers, there
is not even the sound of a disciple of the Blessed One
coughing or clearing his throat. Once the Blessed One was
teaching the Dhamma to an assembly of several hundred
followers and there a disciple of his cleared his throat.
There upon one of his companions in the holy life nudged
him with his knee to indicate:
'Be quiet, venerable sir, make no noise; the Blessed
One, the Teacher, is teaching us the Dhamma.' I thought:
'It is wonderful, it is marvellous how an assembly can be
so well disciplined without force or weapon!' Indeed, I
do not see any other assembly elsewhere so well
disciplined. This too, Bhante, is why I infer according
to Dhamma about the Blessed One: 'The Blessed One is
rightly and fully awakened, the Dhamma is well proclaimed

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by the Blessed One, the Sangha of the Blessed One's


disciples is practising the good way.'
Converting magic
"Again, Bhante, I have seen here certain learned nobles
who were clever, knowledgeable about the doctrines of
others, as sharp as hair splitting marksmen; they wander
about, as it were, demolishing the views of others with
their sharp wits. When they hear: 'The Samana Gotama will
visit such and such a village or town, 'they formulate a
question thus: 'We will go to the Samana Gotama and ask
him this question. If he is asked like this, he will
answer like this, and so we will refute his doctrine in
this way; and if he is asked like that, he will answer
like that, and so we will refute his doctrine in that
way.'
They hear: 'The Samana Gotama has come to visit such and
such a village or town.' They go to the Blessed One, and
the Blessed One instructs, urges, rouses, and encourages
them with a talk on the Dhamma. After they have been
instructed, urged, roused, and encouraged by the Blessed
One with a talk on the Dhamma, they do not so much as ask
him the question, so how should they refute his doctrine?
In actual fact, they become his disciples. This too,
Bhante, is why I infer according to Dhamma about the
Blessed One: 'The Blessed One is rightly and fully
awakened, the Dhamma is well proclaimed by the Blessed
One, the Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples is
practising the good way.'
"Again, Bhante, I have seen here certain learned
brahmins, ...
... I have seen here certain learned householders ...
[who do the same and] ' They go to the Blessed One, and
the Blessed One instructs, urges, rouses, and encourages
them with a talk on the Dhamma. After they have been
instructed, urged, roused, and encouraged by the Blessed
One with a talk on the Dhamma, they do not so much as ask
him the question, so how should they refute his doctrine?
In actual fact, they become his disciples. This too,

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venerable sir, is why I infer according to Dhamma about


the Blessed One: 'The Blessed One is rightly and fullyawakened, the Dhamma is well proclaimed by the Blessed
One, the Sangha of the Blessed One's disciples is
practising the good way.'
Again, I have seen here certain learned samanas who were
clever, knowledgeable about the doctrines of others, as
sharp as hair splitting marksmen; they wander about, as
it were, demolishing the views of others with their sharp
wits. When they hear: 'The Samana Gotama will visit such
and such a village or town, 'they formulate a question
thus: 'We will go to the Samana Gotama and ask him this
question. If he is asked like this, he will answer like
this, and so we will refute his doctrine in this way; and
if he is asked like that, he will answer like that, and
so we will refute his doctrine in that way.'
They hear: 'The Samana Gotama has come to visit such and
such a village or town.' They go to the Blessed One, and
the Blessed One instructs, urges, rouses, and encourages
them with a talk on the Dhamma. After they have been
instructed, urged, roused, and encouraged by the Blessed
One with a talk on the Dhamma, they do not so much as ask
him the question, so how should they refute his doctrine?
In actual fact, they ask the Blessed One to allow them to
go forth from the home life into homelessness, and he
gives them the going forth.
Becoming arahants
Not long after they have thus gone forth, dwelling
alone, withdrawn, diligent, self-controlled, and
resolute, by realising for themselves with direct
knowledge they here and now enter upon and abide in that
supreme goal of the holy life for the sake of which
clansmen rightly go forth from the home life into
homelessness.
They say thus: 'We were very nearly lost, we very nearly
perished, for formerly we claimed that we were samanas
though we were not really samanas; we claimed that we
were brahmins though we were not really brahmins; we

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claimed that we were arahants though we were not really


arahants. But now we are samanas, now we are brahmins,
now we are arahants. 'This too, Bhante, is why I infer
according to Dhamma about the Blessed One: 'The Blessed
One is rightly and fully awakened, the Dhamma is well
proclaimed by the Blessed One, the Sangha of the Blessed
One's disciples is practising the good way.'
Fearless faith
"Again, Bhante, Isidatta and Purana, my two inspectors,
eat my food and use my carriages; I provide them with a
livelihood and bring them fame. Yet in spite of this,
they are less respectful towards me than they are towards
the Blessed One. Once when I had gone out leading an army
and was testing these inspectors, Isidatta and Purana, I
happened to put up in very cramped quarters.
Then these two inspectors, Isidatta and Purana, after
spending much of the night in talk on the Dhamma, lay
down with their heads in the direction where they had
heard that the Blessed One was staying and with their
feet towards me. I thought: 'It is wonderful, it is
marvellous! These two inspectors, Isidatta and Purana,
eat my food and use my carriages; I provide them with a
livelihood and bring them fame. Yet in spite of this,
they are less respectful towards me than they are towards
the Blessed One. Surely these good people perceive
successive states of lofty distinction in the Blessed
One's Dispensation.' This too, Bhante, is why I infer
according to Dhamma about the Blessed One: 'The Blessed
One is rightly and fully awakened, the Dhamma is well
proclaimed by the Blessed One, the Sangha of the Blessed
One's disciples is practising the good way.'
"Again, Bhante, the Blessed One is a noble and I am a
noble; the Blessed One is a Kosalan and I am a Kosalan;
the Blessed One is eighty years old and I am eighty years
old. Since that is so, I think it proper to do such
supreme honour to the Blessed One and to show such
friendship.

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"And now, Bhante, we depart. We are busy and have much to


do."
"Now is the time, great king, to do as you think fit."
Then King Pasenadi of Kosala rose from his seat, and
after paying homage to the Blessed One, keeping him on
his right, he departed.
Then soon after he had left, the Blessed One addressed
the monks thus: "Monks , before rising from his seat and
departing, this King Pasenadi uttered monuments to the
Dhamma. Learn the monuments to the Dhamma, monks; master
the monuments to the Dhamma; remember the monuments to
the Dhamma. The monuments to the Dhamma are beneficial,
monks, and they belong to the fundamentals of the holy
life."
That is what the Blessed One said. The monks were
satisfied and delighted in the Blessed One's words.
This Sutta is known as the Sutta on Monuments to the
Dhamma for a reason. In last weeks talk, we spoke about
how we need to invest in building our children instead of
the equipment and infrastructure around our children. In
the same way, this Sutta is reminding us to invest in
building up the fourfold community of monks, nuns,
laywomen and laymen, not the temples, stupas and other
buildings around the monks and nuns.
According to this Sutta, Buddhists should be monumental
figures in the life of society. We should stand together
more prominent than the Statue of Liberty. Monks and
nuns, should stand tall by 1) ordaining for life, 2)
living harmoniously with each other in monastic
community, 3) attaining to glowing health in both body
and mind, 4) loving and being disciplined by the Suttas
with all our heart, 5) being able to persuade people from
all sections of society to take refuge in the Three
Treasures, and by 6) becoming rightly and fully awakened.
And lay Buddhists should stand tall by having so much
faith in the Three Treasures that they are willing to

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offend even the Queen of England for the sake of showing


that faith.
Conclusion
In conclusion, I believe that we can build such a
Buddhist community. But we have a lot of work to do. And
thats the good news, because there is nothing better
than a life filled with meaningful work. Let us do this
together. Let us rebuild together the Buddhas
dispensation in a plain, straightforward and common sense
way.
For concrete ideas on how to join the Plain Buddhist
revolution, please come back next week to hear the final
instalment in this Plain Buddhist Manifesto wherein I
will present a step-by-step battleplan for how to revive
the Buddhas dispensation and create a network of islands
of enlightened local resilience based upon Plain Buddhist
principles in and around the Hunter Valley, Newcastle and
Sydney region.
And that is my Dhamma offering to you this evening. Let
us sit together for a few moments in silence to
contemplate what has been said. May this Dhamma talk lead
to the long-term well-being and happiness of all living
beings.
Sadhu. Sadhu. Sadhu.

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Plain Buddhist Manifesto (VIII):


Battleplan
Welcome
Spiritual friends, fellows and companions. Lend me your
ears once more.
Welcome to the final talk in this series entitled A
Plain Buddhist Manifesto.
Review
To recap: Talk number one was an overview. Therein, we
set out the overall context. That is, a world where
orthodox Buddhism has lost its way, and where global
civilisation is in terminal decline. And we proposed
Plain Buddhism as a powerful response to both of these
problems.
We set out the difference between Plain Buddhism and
orthodox Buddhism. Plain Buddhism starts with the Pali
suttas. We bring to the Suttas a Plain, common sense and
direct approach to interpretation. And then we emphasize
five thematic undercurrents to the Suttas that make their
teachings particularly well-suited to dealing with the
problems of the modern age: that is 1) concreteness and
reviewability, 2) integrity and consistency, 3)
renunciation and contentment, 4) deep cooperative
community, and 5) belief in kamma and rebirth.
Plain Buddhism becomes a Plain Buddhist Manifesto when we
describe what happens when we apply the principles of
Plain Buddhism to transforming the foundations of
civilisation: that is, food and clothing, shelter and
medicine, family, community, education and Buddhist monks
and nuns.
In talk number two we spoke about a Plain Buddhist
approach to food and clothing. We said that the Buddha
taught that food is not for taste but for nutrition. The
four principles of plain food are: 1) eat food with plain
flavours in plain eating environments with plain eating

136

habits, 2) eat food that is fresh, local and organic, 3)


be as vegetarian as possible given health constraints and
4) abstain from alcohol and intoxicants.
We said that the Buddha taught that clothing is to be
worn for protection from the elements and as a social
grace, not for vanity. The four principles of plain
clothing are: 1) develop and wear your own life uniform,
2) wear clothing that is high quality, long-lasting,
dignified and ideally second hand to avoid getting
involved with fashion, 3) take advantage of the
opportunities to share the Dhamma created by your plain
clothing, and 4) move towards a life uniform composed of
all white clothing.
In talk number three we spoke about a Plain Buddhist
approach to shelter and medicine. We said that the
Buddha taught that shelter is for protection from the
elements and seclusion, not for the sake of financial
investment. The four principles of plain shelter are 1)
live in multigenerational households, 2) live in small
homes, 3) build using recycled and natural materials and
4) live in intentional communities.
We also said that the Buddha taught that medicine is for
the mitigation of the pain of illness for the
maximization of good health, not for the sake of mere
short term relief. The four principles of plain medicine
are 1) use less pain-killers, 2) use more herbal
medicines, 3) stop looking for medical cures to old age
and death and 4) dont make profits out of medicine.
In talk number four we spoke about a Plain Buddhist
approach to family. We said that the Buddha taught that
peaceful and harmonious family life is won through the
maintenance of reciprocal responsibilities between family
members. We focused on the most important set of
responsibilities, that is those existing between parents
and children.
Children have five responsibilities to their parents: 1)
to support them, 2) to do their societal duties, 3) to
maintain the family traditions, 4) to make themselves

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worthy of their inheritance, and 5) to make offerings to


departed parents.
Parents have five responsibilities to their children: 1)
to restrain them from the bad, 2) to encourage them in
the good, 3) to train them in a craft, 4) to bind them to
suitable partners, and 5) to pass on their inheritance at
the right time.
In talk number five we spoke about a Plain Buddhist
approach to community. We said that Plain Buddhist
communities are islands of enlightened local resilience
where people live together in material simplicity and
deep cooperation based upon the teachings in the Pali
Suttas, and we pointed out ten principles drawn from the
Sutta on the Imperfections for the establishment and
maintenance of Plain Buddhist communities: 1) do not fear
leaving the mainstream, 2) decentralise, 3) prioritise
food security, 4) prioritise social harmony, 5) practice
goodwill and love for each other, 6) live in material
simplicity, 7) expect community life to be hard but
joyous work, 8) respect the true elders, 9) meet
regularly based on the Dhamma, and 10) know that homeless
wandering monks and nuns have a duty to help lay people
maintain harmony within their communities.
In talk number six we spoke about a Plain Buddhist
approach to education. We said that Plain Buddhist
education is for the sake of learning the skills
necessary to living happy and meaningful lives through
the cultivation of panna, well-rounded and deep
intelligence. It operates on three levels at once 1)
monastic to monastic, 2) monastic to laity and 3) laity
to laity. In level one, monks and nuns receive teachings
from the Pali Suttas and other monks and nuns who are
fully enlightened. In level two, the laity receives
teachings from monks and nuns about faith, virtue,
generosity and wisdom. And in level three, children
receive teachings from parents and teachers with the
assistance of monks and nuns in the background about
faith, virtue, generosity and wisdom. Children also
receive formal schooling based on five principles: 1)

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small classes are beautiful, 2) teach what is relevant,


3) teach on low wages, 4) invest in the children not in
the equipment, 5) reclaim moral authority in the
classrooms.
In last weeks talk we spoke about a Plain Buddhist
approach to monastic life. We relied on essential
passages from the Suttas to establish a number of
principles that go against the stream of monastic life
today. 1) The Buddha specifically appointed no one to
lead the Sangha after his Parinibbana but said that the
Suttas are to be considered the Teacher in his absence;
2) We may all still live in dependence on this or that
monk or nun, but only if she is virtuous, learned,
content, a master of the jhanas and the psychic powers,
and has the three knowledges of a fully enlightened
arahant; 3) lay people are supposed to investigate their
monks and nuns by carefully observing their behaviour and
drawing reasonable inferences about their purity from
greed, hatred and delusion, 4) the Buddha set
outstandingly high levels of virtue, integrity and
consistency, renunciation and generosity, self-control
and self-restraint and full awareness as the minimum
levels of behaviour for all his monks and nuns; and 5)
the Buddha wanted us to build up the fourfold community
as monuments to the Dhamma, not big buildings, stupas and
temples.
Introduction
Tonight we shall present how you can get involved in the
Plain Buddhist Revolution by providing a vision and
general battleplan for how to revive the Buddhas
dispensation and create a network of islands of
enlightened local resilience based upon Plain Buddhist
principles.
This Plain Buddhist revolution is for the creation of a
Buddhist country of the heart: one without borders, one
bound only by the common and voluntary beliefs, virtues
and practices of its people, whose purpose is peace and

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freedom in the beginning, peace and freedom in the


middle, and peace and freedom in the end.
Is it our job?
But first, let us discuss whether we should make it our
business to embark on such a revolutionary mission in the
first place. After all, didnt the Buddha teach that
everything is impermanent and suffering anyway? So why
bother? Shouldnt we just forget the world and attain
Nibbana by secluding ourselves in monasteries? Or
shouldnt we just forget the world and abide in bare and
choiceless present moment awareness?
Unfortunately neither of these responses are what the
Buddha actually taught and neither of them are capable of
leading us to Nibbana.
For what reason? Because these responses are based upon
denial and delusion. We cannot escape suffering by
denying it like ostriches with their heads buried in the
sand. Nibbana comes from decreasing and destroying
delusion, not by fostering it.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that samsara has
always been a mess and it indeed always will. So we need
to be clear that there is no point getting over- involved
with the world by trying to save the whole thing. But to
say that because we cannot save the whole world, we
should just ignore it completely, is to swing from one
extreme to another.
It is not possible to attain the unconditioned state of
Nibbana by simply ignoring the conditioned things of this
world. Rather, we must cultivate the conditioned things
of the world in the right way, with determined striving
and wisdom in order to create, fashion and produce the
Noble Eightfold Way inside this world. In other words, we
must concern ourselves with Samsara to the extent and in
the manner necessary to build the way out of Samsara.
Stated again, the Noble Eightfold Way is the conditioned
path that leads to the unconditioned.
Simile of the Titanic

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Imagine a wise person is on board the sinking Titanic. He


wastes no time on trying to keep the whole ship afloat.
He also wastes no time with numbing himself with
tranquilisers or vainly secluding himself on the highest
deck. Instead he systematically and intelligently
prepares the life-boats and invites others to do the
same. And by rowing the life-boats in the direction of
the far shore, these wise ones become safe and secure.
In this simile, the wise are like members of the fourfold
Buddhist community. The Titanic is like Samsara. Taking
tranquilisers is like abiding in bare and choiceless
present-moment awarenes. Seclusion on the upper deck is
like hiding in a forest monastery. Preparing the lifeboats is like creating on a local-level the social and
ecological conditions necessary for individuals to
properly practice the Noble Eightfold Way. And rowing the
life-boats is like practising the Noble Eightfold Way as
indiviudals. Reaching the far shore is like attaining
Nibbana.
Lifeboats and Islands
The Buddha left behind the designs of two models of lifeboats. The first model is fast and light and capable of
going all the way to the far shore. This is the homeless
Sangha of Buddhist monks and nuns who live in accordance
with the instructions recorded in the Suttas. The second
model of life boat is slow and heavy and cannot get too
close to the far shore without getting stuck. This is the
community of lay-disciples of the Buddha.
So lets connect the dots here. When I talk about
preparing life-boats, its just another way to talk about
creating islands of enlightened local resilience based on
the principles of Plain Buddhism. That is, small,
decentralised communities of lay Buddhists living in
material simplicity and deep cooperative communities in
both the cities and the countryside. These communities
support and are supported by wandering chapters of
homeless Buddhist monks and nuns.

141

So if we are to think of the fourfold community in terms


of lifeboats, we can think of a large fleet of heavy and
slow lifeboats connected and protected by a smaller fleet
of light and fast lifeboats. Or if we are to think of the
fourfold community in terms of islands, we can think of a
group of islands connected and protected by a small navy
of brave and hardy sailors.
Cataclysm
As some of you will remember from talk number five, Im
of the opinion that there is nothing that can stop this
phase of global civilisation from crashing and burning in
the not-too-distant future. This world is going to go
through massive changes, and unfortunately we have left
it too late to go through those changes smoothly and
peacefully. Our natural resources are too depleted, our
populations too large, our economies too debased, our
governments too corrupt, our cultures too shallow and our
peoples too lazy, complacent and greedy to transition
towards a sustainable global situation without the
massive onset of war, plague, famine and poverty first.
But, actually, even if we werent living in an age of
cataclysmic decline, the Buddha taught that we ought to
behave as if we are anyway. This is because old age,
illness and death wait for us all and these things are
always cataclysmic if we experience them unprepared. And
the dangers that face us as we journey from one body to
another after death are greater than most people are
capable of imagining. This is why even though the Buddha
did not himself live in a cataclysmic age, he still told
his followers to practice his teaching as if their hair
was on fire, or as if smitten by a sword.
But because we for so long have fallen asleep to the true
significance and urgency of the Buddhas teaching, we
might as well use the fact that we do live in a
cataclysmic age to wake ourselves up again. That is, if
we cannot rouse a sense of urgency in response to the
danger lying in our own mortality, we still might be able

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to rouse it at the prospect of the end of the world as we


know it.
Taking refuge
Thus truly taking refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha
has always been an act of great urgency. If we are to
make ourselves safe from all the suffering of this world
of impermanence, we cannot afford to plod on to the same
old tune of life through debt, over-consumption, material
things and sensual pleasures. We are destroying
ourselves, corrupting our societies, trashing our
environments and debasing our spiritual potentials. It is
time to wake up. It is time to change. And this time for
real, not just on the surface.
And this time, we need to change together. We cant just
be radical individuals, we need to revolutionise as a
group. We need to create a revolutionary spiritual
movement. While it is possible to quietly tend to ones
own spiritual practice while general society is chugging
along peacefully, because global civilisation is
fragmenting, we need to band together or else there will
simply be no peaceful places left to quietly practice
anyway.
The significance of the Buddhas teaching that those who
keep the five precepts are refuges to other beings has
never been so acute. His teaching that moral conscience
and compunction are the two protectors of the world has
never rung so true.
In this series of talks I have spoken about revolutionary
change in food, clothing, shelter, medicine, family,
community, education and monasticism. For those who are
persuaded of the goodness and righteousness of these
ideas, the question becomes: How can we make it all
happen? Practically speaking, the first thing we need is
spiritual leadership.
Spiritual leaders
Every good movement needs constant inspiration from wise,
compassionate and humble spiritual leaders. The modern

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experiment in replacing wise, compassionate and humble


leaders with bureaucratic systems, legal processes and
clever machines, has failed. Of course, we can understand
why this era decided to move in that direction: wise,
compassionate and humble spiritual leaders are thin on
the ground.
Sangha reform
That is why we need to reform the Sangha. There needs to
be a cache of society that is devoted to and capable of
consistently training up the next generation of wise,
compassionate and humble spiritual leaders.
To ensure a high percentage of men and women who enter
the Sangha actually transform themselves into inspiring
leadership material, the Sangha needs to reform itself by
going back to the high standards of practice described in
the Suttas. That is, the Sangha needs to commit, to at
least, these fifteen items for Sangha-reform:
1) The Sangha needs to return to taking the Suttas as
the foremost teacher, learning the Suttas both in
Pali and in translation, and memorising and
investigating the Suttas with common sense and reallife experimentation; and the Sangha needs to abandon
treating the commentaries as more authoritative than
the Suttas.
2) The Sangha also needs to return to only allowing
monks and nuns who are fully enlightened to become
Preceptors, that is those who give full ordination to
others; and the Sangha needs to abandon allowing
monks and nuns to act as Preceptors simply because
they have more than ten years in the robes.
3) The Sangha also needs to return to remembering that
one is an elder to the extent that one has mastered
the qualities of wisdom, compassion and renunciation;
and the Sangha needs to abandon automatically
conferring more respect upon monks and nuns simply
because they have more years in the robes.
4) The Sangha also needs to return to being a fellowship
of homeless wanderers; and the Sangha needs to
abandon creating stationary communities around
temples and monasteries.

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5) The Sangha also needs to return to being content with


the four requisites of food, robes, resting place and
medicines; and the Sangha needs to abandon taking
money and owning or controlling other assets and
seeking out sensual pleasures, fame, praise and
power.
6) The Sangha also needs to return to regularly
wandering barefooted over long-distances; and the
Sangha needs to abandon taking vehicles except when
sick.
7) The Sangha also needs to return to eating only one
meal per day and regularly collecting food from
strangers by going on alms round in the mornings; and
the Sangha needs to abandon monastery kitchens.
8) The Sangha also needs to return to building plain and
simple Sangha viharas; and the Sangha needs to
abandon building complex, expensive and high
maintenance monasteries, temples and stupas.
9) The Sangha also needs to return to keeping the
Vinaya, monastic discipline, and doing so with common
sense; and the Sangha needs to abandon either
ignoring Vinaya completely or keeping Vinaya
unreflectively, obsessively and superstitiously.
10)
The Sangha also needs to return to, every
fortnight on the Uposatha, the Holy Day, meeting up
with every single monk, or with every single nun,
within a single district to recite the Patimokkha,
discuss the Dhamma, conduct community transactions
and resolve conflicts and disciplinary issues; and
the Sangha needs to abandon creating sects by
gathering only with those of the same temple or
monastery.
11)
The Sangha also needs to return to doing things
for the sake of real-life long-term consequences; and
the Sangha needs to abandon doing things for the sake
of mere appearances, traditions, rituals,
superstition and fear.
12)
The Sangha also needs to return to supporting
homeless wandering nuns who are tough and ascetic and

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encourage them to manage their own communities


independent of the monks except for receiving the
fortnightly Ovada, that is advice from an enlightened
monk, on Uposatha days; and the Sangha needs to
abandon all forms of discrimination against women.
13)
The Sangha also needs to return to ordaining for
life; and the Sangha needs to abandon all forms of
temporary ordination.
14)
The Sangha also needs to return to ordaining
only those who are spiritually mature enough for
ordination; and the Sangha needs to abandon
recklessly ordaining children and any old Joe who
asks for ordination even though theyre not ready for
it.
15)
And finally, the Sangha also needs to return to
encouraging lay disciples to spend much more time and
energy practising generosity by establishing and
running Buddhist charity organisations, and the
Sangha needs to abandon having monks and nuns
establish and run these organisations themselves.
By actualising these fifteen Sangha-reforms, we will be
able to consistently produce noble and inspiring monks
and nuns who attain enlightenment themselves and who can
provide society the spiritual leadership it needs to
prosper in peace.
Roadmap to Sangha reform
This is how we, together, as a fourfold community, can
make it happen.
We ask that you spread the word to those who will hear,
that the monks life described in the Suttas is 100%
practicable in the 21st century. Please inspire the
community by reporting to them that there are at least
two monks who are right here and now, living the holy
life complete with all of these fifteen factors, and they
are glowing with health and happiness as a result, they
are blending like milk and water, and they teach the
Suttas in plain speech and with common sense.
Predominantly, please spread the word the old fashioned
way: By talking to people face-to-face, and by

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encouraging your family and friends to hear live Dhamma


talks by Plain Buddhist monks.
Transcripts
We will assist the spread of Plain Buddhist ideas by
printing ten copies of an edited transcript of this Plain
Buddhist Manifesto talk series, for slow circulation
around the Hunter Valley community.
We, however, wont print any more than this and we will
ask that you not make electronic copies for sending over
the internet. This is because we want to keep the spread
of Plain Buddhism at a healthy organic pace. Meaningful
movements turn into mere fads when exposed to gushing
excitement and when grown too quickly.
We want you to value the wisdom in Plain Buddhist ideas,
and not simply take them for granted as just another bit
of information to be flicked through over breakfast. If
you are reading a very limited edition publication and
you know that other people in your community are waiting
to read it, it is more likely that you will read it with
care, and remember and understanding it, and look after
it.
Another reason for keeping the print run of the Plain
Buddhist Manifesto small is that we want people to get to
know the Suttas. The Plain Buddhist Manifesto will be an
abject failure if you become more concerned with my
writings than the teachings of the Buddha in the Suttas.
We must constantly point back to the Suttas and encourage
you to practice what is recorded there as directly as
possible.
Suttas
Now, if you want to join the revolution by getting to
know the Suttas, I recommend that you get a copy of In
the Buddhas Words by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Also, please
recommend this book to your friends and family. It is
truly the best introduction to Early Buddhism one can
hope to find.
We also invite all people to think of Bhikkhu Bodhis
translations of the Majjhima, Anguttara and Samyutta
Nikayas, that is The Middle Length Discourses, The

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Numerical Discourses, and The Connected Discourses to be


as essential to the Buddhist life as Christians consider
the Bible to Christian life.
In this way, the community will be increasingly clear on
what they should expect from their monks and nuns. This
will lead to increasing levels of support and respect for
well-practising homeless monks and nuns.
Building on these foundations, I am gradually inviting
other monks to practise with us on rains retreats and to
take long barefooted journeys with us. We are confident
that, over time, as the reputation of the homeless
wandering Sangha spreads, good monks will appear even
without our invitation, and we will be able to help them
emerge from the unwholesome and establish them in the
wholesome.
Quiet revolution
If you have a Buddhist background, all this talk of
reform and revolution might be a bit frightening. Please
do not feel this way. The Plain Buddhist Revolution is a
quiet revolution. We are not looking to make trouble for
the status quo, we are simply looking to create superior
alternatives to the status quo. We do not make it our aim
to foment the downfall of mainstream Buddhist practice.
However, we will be tirelessly direct-but-gentle in
pointing out what is unwholesome in mainstream Buddhism
practice. And we will also be tirelessly direct-buthumble in pointing out the wholesome Plain Buddhist
alternatives found in the Suttas and in our experience.
As we are not looking to convert every monk and nun in
the world to these reforms, creating an alternative
Sangha based on them is highly feasible. In fact, that
Sangha already exists between Bhante Zen and I. As the
Plain Buddhist Sangha grows, the numbers of lay people
who gain faith and inspiration in the idea that it is
possible to live in material simplicity and deep
cooperative community will grow as well. More people will
think to themselves, if these Buddhist monks and nuns
can live so happily and virtuously with each other with
just three robes a bowl and a blanket each then surely I
can change for the better too.
Plain Buddhist Tent Villages

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Flowing from this, I am also training lay followers in


the art of living in material simplicity and deep
cooperative community by running annual Plain Buddhist
Tent Villages. You can tell that we are not just pie-inthe-sky dreamers by the fact that this part of the Plain
Buddhist Revolution is already well underway.
The first Tent Village will run from Saturday 4th July to
Sunday 19th July here, on Purple Pear Farm.
A gathering of around thirty-five people, composed of
both Buddhists and Buddhist sympathisers of all ages,
some of whom are sitting in this very audience, will live
together in tents for fifteen days to create a fully
functional but temporary village run in accordance with
Plain Buddhist principles, under the guidance of this
monk.
The Tent Village will empower participants with the reallife skills that make lives of material simplicity and
deep cooperative community possible in the long-term.
Thus the Tent Village will be a mirror of ordinary life
with adults working on Purple Pear according to Plain
Buddhist cooperative principles, and with children being
educated according to Plain Buddhist educational
principles.
The Tent Village is the first brushstroke for a bigger
picture that includes the future establishment of Plain
Buddhist Permaculture Villages, Plain Buddhist Urban
Cooperatives, Plain Buddhist Schools and Plain Buddhist
Micro-finance.
Participation in the Tent Village is free.
The first Tent Village is booked out. But you can still
get involved because you can join us every evening of the
Tent Village at 7pm for the nightly Dhamma talk. Also, we
will open the Tent Village on the final morning, Sunday
19 July, to the general public for a day of Plain
Buddhist Celebration. Please come around 11am with a
plate of food to share. And then, if you hang around
after that, you can also help us bring down the 24 foot
tipi well be using as the Tent Village Dhamma Hall.
The Dhamma tipi

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Indeed. You heard correctly, a 24 foot Dhamma tipi. We


should be able to squeeze around fifty people into that
space. But the best part is that it is designed to have
an open fire in the centre as well. Imagine what it would
feel like to sit next to that open indoor fire at night
with smoke rising naturally towards the stars and moon
that are visible through the chute at the top while
listening to Dhamma, chanting or meditating with your
spiritual friends.
The Dhamma tipi is the perfect solution to the empty
temple phenomena. That is, the phenomena where the
faithful invest a great deal of time, money and energy in
building expensive temples only to find that one or two
generations after it is built, it is empty because later
generations are not interested in using it.
The Dhamma tipi solves that problem by being
comparatively inexpensive. This one has cost $13,000 all
up. Compared to the hundreds of thousands if not millions
of dollars that temples in Australia cost to build, the
Dhamma tipi is very cost effective. Furthermore,
maintenance costs will be close to zero.
Also, we are confident that it is precisely the kind of
space that will attract non-Buddhists and young people
because it is striking in a simple and elegant way from a
distance, and uplifting to be inside, especially at night
with the fire lit. Furthermore, every time the Dhamma
tipi needs to be put up or taken down, it becomes a good
excuse to gather spiritual friends for a celebration,
thus strengthening the bonds of spiritual community.
Other long-term stuff
I mentioned almost casually before the future
establishment of Plain Buddhist initiatives like Plain
Buddhist Permaculture Villages, Plain Buddhist Urban
Cooperatives, Plain Buddhist Schools and a Plain Buddhist
Micro-finance.
The reason why I was so casual, is that actually, the
most important thing is that we learn to live in material
simplicity and deep cooperative community through the
teachings in the Pali Suttas. When we get the hang of
caring for each other and the earth in simple and

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effective ways, then the Plain Buddhist Revolution will


naturally take a life of its own in many ways both
imagined and unimaginable.
Also we should not get ahead of ourselves by investing in
utopian buildings, infrastructure, land and equipment
first, and attempt to fill these with human beings later.
Experience has shown that this is a recipe for heartache
and bankruptcy. We should first train up our hearts and
our culture so that we can and really want to live
together in material simplicity and deep cooperative
community.
Once we have strong numbers of people who are competent
at living in material simplicity and in deep cooperative
community, people who know each other through the Tent
Villages and through these Dhamma talks, people who are
enthusiastic to create these other initiatives, then we
can flesh-out these initiatives in detail. But to keep
your appetites for alternative models of Plain Buddhist
living well whetted, I will give you a teaser about the
future we want to create.
Plain Buddhist Permaculture Villages
This is what I imagine Plain Buddhist Permaculture
Villages will be like. I imagine farms in the country,
each inhabited by a community of about forty to sixty
Buddhists of all ages stemming from multi-generational
households. They all consider themselves Plain Buddhists,
in the sense that they consider the Pali Suttas to be the
teacher and well-purified wandering homeless monks and
nuns to be their tutors. They all also have the same life
ambition: that is, to attain Nibbana themselves and to
help others attain Nibbana as well.
They live in harmony with the earth by farming the land
using Permaculture principles enhanced by Buddhist
insights and ethics. And they live in harmony with each
other by keeping in common the five precepts, the ten
principles of the good life, as well as by refraining
from the six ways of ruining wealth and the five kinds of
wrong trade. Furthermore, every Uposatha they practise
asceticism by taking on the Eight Precepts.
They are committed to the practice of the Noble Eightfold
Way and to living lives of faith, virtue, generosity and

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wisdom. They are renown throughout the wider district for


their spiritual beauty and physical strength. This
reputation is earned through their constant giving,
sharing, service and sacrifice to each other and the
wider community.
They live simply, reminding themselves constantly that
just enough is more than plenty. They can provide for
most of their own needs from their own land, but they
still interact regularly and meaningfully with the wider
community. Most adults work on the village land and a few
work outside. The children are given a Plain Buddhist
education by participating in real-life activities both
within and outside the village.
Homeless wandering monks and nuns pass through regularly
and the villagers eagerly and joyfully listen to the
Dhamma they speak. Also, from time to time monks and nuns
help the villagers peacefully and equitably resolve the
more stubborn conflicts that have arisen in community.
The overall purpose is to give ordinary lay people a
complete social and economic context which encourages
rather than hinders the practice of the Dhamma. We can
think of it as upgrading to a higher level of practice.
On the one hand we encourage monks and nuns to upgrade by
leaving the monasteries and temples, and on the other, we
encourage lay people to upgrade by moving into
intentional Plain Buddhist communities.
Plain Buddhist Urban Cooperatives
Now if country-living is not quite your thing ... yet,
then this is what I imagine Plain Buddhist Urban
Cooperatives will be like. I imagine a similar set of
Plain Buddhists living in material simplicity and deep
cooperative community in large urban dwellings in numbers
varying according to the size of the dwelling.
Essentially life is lived in share-house arrangements,
with a few key differences: instead of being scungy
share-houses composed of inconsiderate and undisciplined
university students, they are true cooperatives of
faithful, virtuous, generous and wise Plain Buddhists.
They retro-fit their dwellings to make them as low impact
as possible and use Permaculture techniques to grow food

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in their front and backyards. And they are visited from


time to time by homeless wandering monks and nuns.
However, because they live in the city, most of the
adults have paid work of some kind. But, at the same time
as they live in material simplicity and deep cooperative
community, most of the money made is saved so that they
can move into the country. This is because, being Plain
Buddhists, their minds are always inclining towards quiet
and unpolluted environments. Over time most move to the
country and join or start Plain Buddhist Permaculture
Villages
So the overall purpose of the Urban Cooperatives is to
provide Plain Buddhists with places to live in the city
without being shackled to multi-decade mortgages, where
they can be surrounded by spiritual friends and make
preparations for a more Dhammic way of life in the
country.
Thus we will establish a chain of islands that lead
towards Nibbana. In this way, a Plain Buddhist will be
able to island hop from city to country and from
country to the homeless wandering life and from the
homeless wandering life to Nibbana.
Plain Buddhist Schools
Now to prevent the children from getting sucked into the
stream of the world by the mainstream education system,
we will also create Plain Buddhist Schools.
In brief, Plain Buddhist schools will be schools with
small classes that teach what is relevant, through
teachers on modest wages, who wield strong moral
authority, and who do not resort to expensive equipment
and materials.
At such schools the children will learn about:
1) How to abandon the five hindrances, the imperfections
of the mind that block the growth of wisdom. That is,
sensual desire, ill-will, laziness and sleepiness,
overstimulation and anxiety, and moral confusion; and
2) How to develop the six essential skills of
independent learners: that is, respect and humility,

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self-discipline, functional literacy, functional


numeracy, good memory and being well-spoken.
Plain Buddhist schools will be based on real life.
Instead of supplementing classroom time with a few
nominal excursions into real life, classroom time will be
supplemental to full and meaningful participation in and
contribution to community life.
The first Buddhist schools will be home-schools run by
Plain Buddhist parents who have learned the ropes of
Plain Buddhist schooling by attending Tent Villages.
Plain Buddhist Microfinance
Now, as more people join the movement, we will also pool
financial savings to create Plain Buddhist Microfinance.
Despite the fancy name, its actually a very simple idea.
Community members will donate their surplus funds to
local Plain Buddhist Financiers who have strong
reputations for being wise and honest. They will lend at
zero interest up to $50,000 at a time to wise and honest
social entrepreneurs. They will arrange informal and noncontractual discussions into concrete terms of repayment
based solely on respect for the Dhamma.
This system assumes high levels of trust and virtue
inside the community, so wont seem plausible to those
who assume the usual economists assumptions that human
beings are intrinsically greedy and selfish. However, I
am confident that such a system can work because I know
those assumptions are wrong from having seen myself
transform on account of the Buddhas teaching. But this
system will only seem plausible to others when they see
with their own eyes how large numbers of people - who
have undergo similar transformations really can
voluntarily and spontaneously arrange their daily
economic affairs in line with deeply cooperative models.
But the take home message is this. It is not just people
in developing nations who need access to wise,
compassionate and simple finance. Australian society has
become morally, culturally and spiritually bankrupt and
we need to create alternative financial systems that
encourage investment in wise social entrepreneurs to get
us back into the moral, cultural and spiritual black.

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We cant rely on the global financial system to do it


because the global financial system is unjust and
perverted. Essentially its a casino and a Ponzi scheme.
Its purpose is to turn the vast majority into debt slaves
to a handful of rich elite, and this is true whether we
live in developed or developing nations.
If we are to transform society so that ordinary people
have a shot at a life where they have enough time, energy
and headspace to practice the Dhamma properly, a life
wherein they are no longer running around like headless
chickens to pay off their debts, we need to create
alternative financial systems that provide wise social
entrepreneurs with access to capital in order to
emancipate society, as opposed to enslave it. Such a
system, I imagine, would be interest free, contract free
and 100% fractional reserve, localised, small and slow.
In other words, it would be a financial system which is
human in scale and founded on faith, virtue, generosity
and wisdom. It would be a win-win-win system where wise
donors make a bonanza of good kamma by giving to the wise
financiers, and wise financiers make a bonanza of good
kamma by giving to wise social entrepreneurs, and the
wise social entrepreneurs make a bonanza of good kamma by
giving back to the wise financiers.
Symbols
And finally, every revolution needs symbols and banners
to inspire and remind its adherents about its principles.
We have already spoken about one symbol for the Plain
Buddhist Revolution. That is, tipis as Dhamma halls.
Dhamma tipis represent simplicity, sufficiency,
practicality, being down to earth, harmony and balance,
and spiritual community.
And the second symbol that shall represent the Plain
Buddhist Revolution is the Dhamma wheel drawn in the
shape of an all illuminating sun, like the one youve
seen drawn on the posters advertising these talks. This
represents the pure and direct power of the Noble
Eightfold Way which illuminates the world and carries us
through all difficulties.

155

We invite you to join the Plain Buddhist revolution by


taking up these symbols as motifs for the creation of
Plain Buddhist art here and into the future.
Vision
Now we will conclude with a short visionary sketch of
that future the Plain Buddhist Revolution is aimed at
creating. So please close your eyes and imagine.
small towns and suburbs revitalised not by the force of
the dollar but by communities of real human beings
drinking deep from wells of harmony in individuality,
society, ecology and spirituality. Communities led and
composed by people who have not forgotten that the
purpose of life is the development of long-term
happiness, peace and freedom for everyone.
The people here are driven, discipline and hardworking;
courageous and respectful; compassionate and generous;
frugal, virtuous and wise. Husbands and wives, children
and parents and grandparents live together in harmony.
The people look after the land and the land looks after
the people.
Families, businesses and farms are strong. The children
are safe and well educated. And there are plenty of
peaceful, healthy and long-term jobs for everyone.
We know our neighbours well, but were not drowning in
gossip.
We have what we need and are content. Reminding ourselves
always that just enough is more than plenty. Debt stress
is a thing of the past. So too are depression, anxiety,
ADD, chronic fatigue and a host of other modern diseases
of civilisation. We no longer rely on pharmaceuticals and
alcohol to get us through the day.
We are a happy people, well versed and trained in the
deep culture of plain living taught by the Buddha. But of
course not everything is perfect. But things are pretty
darned good. And then, we do remember the days before the
homeless Buddhist monks and nuns wandered into our lives,

156

the dark days when the sky was dusty and our hearts were
hungry, and we're committed to never returning to life
for the sake of the dollar, and we all agree to live ever
on for the sake of developing long-term happiness, peace
and freedom for everyone.
Finally, we invite you to join the Plain Buddhist
Revolution by being willing to dream good dreams and to
believe in good dreams. We call you to faith. And we call
you to action.
That is my Dhamma offering to you this evening. Let us
sit together for a few moments to contemplate what has
been said. May all beings both seen and unseen rejoice in
the goodness and merit of this Dhamma talk, and may it
lead to the long- term happiness, peace and freedom of
all living beings.
Sadhu. Sadhu. Sadhu.

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