Founded in 1939 by Swami Ashokananda (Ramakrishna Order, India)

Swami Prasannatmananda (current Swami-in-Charge/ President)

Report: Living In Spirit – Rev. Heng Sure

“Buddhist Perspective in the Scenario of a New Normal” ~ Rev. Heng Sure

Living in Spirit Lecture Series, Vedanta Society of Berkeley

Reverend Heng Sure, the director of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, gave a presentation on “Buddhist Perspective in the Scenario of a New Normal.” This lecture was a part of the Vedanta Society of Berkeley’s “Living in Spirit” lecture series and was given on July 20, 2020.

The presentation begins with observations about society today. Not only are we in the middle of the global COVID-19 pandemic, but we are also facing an economic crisis (people are losing their jobs and losing access to food/other resources) and climate change. Meanwhile, monastic communities worldwide have lived sustainably for decades, and Buddhist and Vedantic monastics have much to offer the world in this time of crisis in terms of ways to live wisely and sustainably.

To live in the new normal, consisting of face masks and quarantine, we have to cut back on greed. Specifically, we should cut back on our thought process of “I” as an isolated being and instead connect to our environment.

Buddha once said, “all senses are on fire.” This refers to the whole world seeming to be on fire when we look outside with burning senses. The solution to the burning of the senses is the moral precepts, which teach us how to be a wholesome and responsible person. The moral precepts put out the fire of the senses and serve as the antidote to the fire in the world. The precepts function as an interface with the world and as guidelines to facilitate our resolve to live spiritually and pragmatically.

The perfection of morality is able to eradicate the fires of all afflictions. Monastic life teaches us harmless, compassionate ways to engage with the world using wisdom and skillful means.

  • No greed
  • No harm
  • No solipsism
  • Prioritize spirituality
  • Live in a way that removes humans from the center of the world

No Greed

  • Practice simplicity and moderation.
  • Monastic life celebrates human life in the world without honoring greed.
  • Monks believe that by living mindfully & carefully, avoiding any extremes, and celebrating moderation, there is plenty for anyone.
  • Learn to distinguish between need and greed.
  • Greed is a poison. Practicing contentment and gratefulness counteracts that poison.

No Harm

  • There is always a way to live skillfully that isn’t at another’s expense.
  • Many monks follow a plant-based diet. Doing so reduces the killing of animals and also reduces the carbon footprint even more so than purchasing an electric car.
  • Monks traditionally refrain from participating in military combat, as well as taking part in any military-related services.

No Solipsism

  • Develop a sense of interdependence with the world around you.
  • Monastic communities believe that we are knit into a relationship with other creatures.
  • Stay humble and reverent. Be grateful and wise in your sharing and stewardship of resources. Show compassion to other, neighboring species who inhabit the planet with us.

Prioritize Spirituality

  • The Buddhist teachings came from Asia in the sutras, and in the pratimoksha code is a world full of gods, dragons, spiritual pantheons, and creatures of all kind.
  • The connections with the realms of spirit are affirmed by indigenous peoples (pre-modern Earth-based civilizations).

Live in a Way That Removes Humans from the Center of the World

  • We live life in a way that puts humans in the center of the world while forcing all other things on earth to serve us. This way of living has proven to be unsustainable.
  • The Buddha and the sutras describe the earth as a community to be lived in harmoniously and wisely, not as a commodity to be exploited and consumed by the strongest and most ruthless.

In the world of a monastery, nature is full of spirit and the lives resemble a pre-modern, indigenous nature. We, therefore, need to step back from this feverish dream of the competitive marketplace where the senses are on fire. We should adapt to a pre-historical person’s awe and appreciation for the interrelated power of the natural world and combine pre-modern wonder with global and ethical wisdom.

The event concluded with a note of thanks from Sw. Prasannatmananda. Swami Prasannatmananda also explained that Swami Vivekananda’s teachings are on positive aspect of Buddha’s teachings of Pancha Sheela.



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