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Shambhala Sun Audio Interview with Frank Ostaseski

Shambhala Sun Audio Interview with Frank Ostaseski, founder of Zen Hospice Project

Frank Ostaseski was the founding director of Zen Hospice Project who introduced thousands to the practices of mindful and compassionate care of the dying. Now he leads the Metta Institute, where teaches the spiritual dimensions of living, dying, and transformation through professional trainings and educational programs, including the End-of-Life Counselor Program.

His groundbreaking work has been featured in the Bill Moyers series On Our Own Terms, the PBS series With Eyes Open, the Oprah Winfrey Show, and numerous national publications.

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Buddhist Geeks Audio Interview with Joseph Goldstein

Buddhist Geeks Audio Interview with Joseph Goldstein, co-founder of Insight Meditation Society

Joseph Goldstein is one of the primary figures in the development of Insight Meditation in the West. He is co-founder and guiding teacher of Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA. He has been teaching vipassana and metta retreats worldwide since 1974.

He is the author of A Heart Full of Peace, One Dharma, The Experience of Insight, and Insight Meditation. He joins self described “seriously Buddhist, seriously geeky” Vince Horn to discuss the unique benefits of long-term practice.

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Meditation for Beginners – Featuring Dan Harris and Sharon Salzberg

ABC anchor (and meditator!) Dan Harris teams up with Insight Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg to walk you through the basics of how to start a meditation practice. This light and sometimes funny 6 minute video includes a guided meditation with Sharon Salzberg. Video produced by and used with the permission of Happify.

Kapok Zafu

kapok zafuKapok Zafu (round meditation cushion)

We’ve been hand-stuffing this traditional kapok cushion since 1979. Extremely firm, this cushion is stuffed with over 3.5 lbs of kapok. When you receive it, is round and hard like a loaf of Russian bread.

Kapok is a soft, hypoallergenic, mold and mildew resistant, natural fiber harvested from the seedpod of the Kapok tree which is found in Thailand and Indonesia. Naturally silky and resilient, it has been the traditional stuffing for sitting cushions for centuries.

Benefits of sitting on the kapok-filled zafu include:

  • Solid support for those who prefer a very firm seat.
  • Extra height and width for taller and/or larger-framed meditators who are less flexible.
  • Can be turned on its side for use in the seiza posture (kneeling) and gives a bit more height than the buckwheat zafu.
  • After its break-in period, our kapok sitters become VERY “attached” to their zafus and many folks use them for 20-30 years!

Note that using the kapok zafu is often an “acquired taste.” DharmaCrafts suggests that you try one at your local meditation center, though it’s most likely that the ones you’ll find there will have already been “broken in” by previous visitors.

Who might like sitting on a Kapok Zafu:

  • Long-time meditators who have previously used a kapok zafu.
  • Those who prefer to sit in the seiza (kneeling) posture.
  • Tall and/or long-legged meditators and those with larger frames.

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Buckwheat Zafu


Our most popular meditation cushion.

Filled with natural buckwheat hulls, the buckwheat zafu is preferred by most new practitioners.

Benefits of sitting on the buckwheat zafu include:

  • Requires no break-in period
  • Conforms to your particular posture, rather like sitting on sand at the beach.
  • Provides excellent support.
  • Can be turned on its side for use in the “seiza” posture, or kneeling position.
  • Made to last a lifetime. Each DharmaCrafts zafu is handcrafted here in our shop in Lawrence, MA. Our trained craftspeople pay close attention to every detail — using premium materials, & double-stitched seams

Who might like sitting on a buckwheat zafu?

  • Meditators of all shapes and sizes.
  • Beginners and long-time meditators alike.
  • Those who prefer to sit in any variation of the lotus or cross-legged position.
  • Those who prefer to sit in the seiza (kneeling) posture.
  • Long-legged folks, and meditators over six feet tall. The buckwheat zafu can be turned on its side or paired with a square support cushion for additional height. (A higher sitting position is generally more comfortable for those who have less flexibility in their hips and knees.)

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(also Amita), Skt. (Jap., Amida), lit., “Boundless Light”; one of the most impor­tant and popular buddhas of the Mahāyāna, unknown in early Buddhism. He is ruler of the western paradise Sukhāvati, which is not to be understood as a location but as a state of consciousness. Amitābha is at the center of the worship of the Pure Land school of Chinese and Japanese Bud­dhism. He symbolizes mercy and wisdom.

Buddhism Basics

The Four Noble Truths

The Truth of Suffering
The first of the Four Noble Truths is suffering, which is the usual translation of the Sanskrit word duhkha (Pali, dukkha). We should qualify that translation by saying that this does not mean that the Buddha didn’t acknowledge the existence of happiness or contentment in life. The point that he was making is that there is happiness and also sorrow in the world; but the reason why everything we experience in our everyday life is said to be duhkha is that even when we have some kind of happiness, it is not permanent; it is subject to change. more...


The Eightfold Path

There seem to be so many sidetracks in relating to our life-situations, sidetracks of all kinds by which we are seduced: “Food, gas and lodging, next exit.” We are always promised something if we turn right at the next exit as we travel down our highway. There are so many colorful advertisements. We never want to be just where and what we are; we always want to be somewhere else. We can always turn right at the next exit, even though we really know we are stuck on our highway anyway, that we really have no choice about it. Where we are is embarrassing, and so we would like to hear somebody say that there is an alternative whereby we do not have to be ashamed of ourselves: “I’ll provide a mask, just put it on.” Then you can get off at that exit and you are “saved” by pretending to be what you are not. You think people see you as a different person, the one wearing the mask of what you would like to be.~

Buddhism promises nothing. It teaches us to be what we are where we are, constantly, and it teaches us to relate to our living situations accordingly. That seems to be the way to proceed on our highway without being distracted by the sidetracks and exits of all kinds. The signs say: “Tibetan Village, next exit;” “Japanese Village, next exit;” “Nirvana, next exit;” “Enlightenment, next exit—instant one;” “Disneyland, next exit.” If you turn right, everything is going to be OK. You get what you are promised. But after having gone to Disneyland or having taken part in the Nirvana Festival, then you have to think about how you are going to get back to your car, how you are going to get home. This means you have to get back on the highway once more. It is unavoidable. I am afraid that this portrays our basic situation, the process in which we are constantly involved.

I am sorry not to be presenting any glamorous and beautiful promises. Wisdom happens to be a domestic affair. Buddha saw the world as it is and that was his enlightenment. “Buddha” means “awake,” being awake, completely awake—that seems to be his message to us. He offered us a path to being awake, a path with eight points, and he called it “the eightfold path.”

The first point the Buddha made has to do with “right view.” Wrong view is a matter of conceptualization. Someone is walking toward us—suddenly we freeze. Not only do we freeze ourselves, but we also freeze the space in which the person is walking toward us. We call him “friend” who is walking through this space or “enemy.” Thus the person is automatically walking through a frozen situation of fixed ideas—”this is that,” or “this is not that.” This is what Buddha called “wrong view.” It is a conceptualized view which is imperfect because we do not see the situation as it is. There is the possibility, on the other hand, of not freezing that space. The person could walk into a lubricated situation of myself and that person as we are. Such a lubricated situation can exist and can create open space.

Of course, openness could be appropriated as a philosophical concept as well, but the philosophy need not necessarily be fixed. The situation could be seen without the idea of lubrication as such, without any fixed idea. In other words, the philosophical attitude could be just to see the situation as it is. “That person walking toward me is not a friend, therefore he is not an enemy either. He is just a person approaching me. I don’t have to prejudge him at all.” That is what is called “right view.”

The next aspect of the eightfold path is called “right intention.” Ordinary intention is based upon the process we have just described. Having conceptually fixed the person, now you are ready either to grasp or attack him. Automatically there is an apparatus functioning to provide either a waterbed or a shotgun for that person. That is the intention. It is a thought process which relates thinking to acting. When you encounter a situation, you think; and thinking inclines toward acting. In your constant alertness to relate the situation to your security, the intention is worked between two jaws. The emotional element, concerned with pleasure or pain, expansion or withdrawal, is one jaw; the heavy, physical aspect of the situation is the other. Situations keep you chewing your intention constantly, like gristle. Intention always has the quality of either invitation or attack.

But according to Buddha there is also “right intention.” In order to see what this is, we first must understand what Buddha meant by “right.” He did not mean to say right as opposed to wrong at all. He said “right” meaning “what is,” being right without a concept of what is right. “Right” translates the Sanskrit samyak, which means “complete.” Completeness needs no relative help, no support through comparison; it is self sufficient. Samyak means seeing life as it is without crutches, straightforwardly. In a bar one says, “I would like a straight drink.” Not diluted with club soda or water; you just have it straight. That is samyak. No dilutions, no concoctions—just a straight drink. Buddha realized that life could be potent and delicious, positive and creative, and he realized that you do not need any concoctions with which to mix it. Life is a straight drink—hot pleasure, hot pain, straightforward, one hundred percent.

So right intention means not being inclined toward anything other than what is. You are not involved in the idea that life could be beautiful or could be painful, and you are not being careful about life. According to Buddha, life is pain, life is pleasure. That is the samyak quality of it—so precise and direct: straight life without any concoctions. There is no need at all to reduce life situations or intensify them. Pleasure as it is, pain as it is—these are the absolute qualities of Buddha’s approach to intention.

The third aspect of the eightfold path is “right speech.” In Sanskrit the word for speech is vac, which means “utterance,” “word,” or “logos.” It implies perfect communication, communication which says, “It is so,” rather than, “I think it is so.” “Fire is hot,” rather than, “I think fire is hot.” Fire is hot, automatically—the direct approach. Such communication is true speech, in Sanskrit satya, which means “being true.” It is dark outside at this time. Nobody would disagree with that. Nobody would have to say, “I think it is dark outside,” or, “You must believe it is dark outside.” You would just say, “It is dark outside.” It is just the simple minimum of words we could use. It is true.

The fourth aspect of the eightfold path is “right morality” or “right discipline.” If there is no one to impose discipline and no one to impose discipline on, then there is no need for discipline in the ordinary sense at all. This leads to the understanding of right discipline, complete discipline, which does not exist relative to ego. Ordinary discipline exists only at the level of relative decisions. If there is a tree, there must be branches; however, if there is no tree, there are no such things as branches. Likewise, if there is no ego, a whole range of projections becomes unnecessary. Right discipline is that kind of giving-up process; it brings us into complete simplicity.

We are all familiar with the samsaric kind of discipline which is aimed at self-improvement. We give up all kinds of things in order to make ourselves “better,” which provides us with tremendous reassurance that we can do something with our lives. Such forms of discipline are just unnecessarily complicating your life rather than trying to simplify and live the life of a rishi.

“Rishi” is a Sanskrit word which refers to the person who constantly leads a straightforward life. The Tibetan word for “rishi” is trangsong (drang sron). Trang means “direct,” song means “upright.” The term refers to one who leads a direct and upright life by not introducing new complications into his life-situation. This is a permanent discipline, the ultimate discipline. We simplify life rather than get involved with new gadgets or finding new concoctions with which to mix it.

The fifth point is “right livelihood.” According to Buddha, right livelihood simply means making money by working, earning dollars, pounds, francs, pesos. To buy food and pay rent you need money. This is not a cruel imposition on us. It is a natural situation. We need not be embarrassed by dealing with money nor resent having to work. The more energy you put out, the more you get in. Earning money involves you in so many related situations that it permeates your whole life. Avoiding work usually is related to avoiding other aspects of life as well.

People who reject the materialism of American society and set themselves apart from it are unwilling to face themselves. They would like to comfort themselves with the notion that they are leading philosophically virtuous lives, rather than realizing that they are unwilling to work with the world as it is. We cannot expect to be helped by divine beings. If we adopt doctrines which lead us to expect blessings, then we will not be open to the real possibilities in situations. Buddha believed in cause and effect. For example, you get angry at your friend and decide to cut off the relationship. You have a hot argument with him and walk out of the room and slam the door. You catch your finger in the door. Painful, isn’t it? That is cause and effect. You realize there is some warning there. You have overlooked karmic necessity. It happens all the time. This is what we run into when we violate right livelihood.

The sixth point is “right effort.” The Sanskrit, samyagvyayama, means energy, endurance, exertion. This is the same as the bodhisattva’s principle of energy. There is no need to be continually just pushing along, drudging along. If you are awake and open in living situations, it is possible for them and you to be creative, beautiful, humorous, and delightful. This natural openness is right effort, as opposed to any old effort. Right effort is seeing a situation precisely as it is at that very moment, being present fully, with delight, with a grin. There are occasions when we know we are present, but we do not really want to commit ourselves, but right effort involves full participation.

For right effort to take place we need gaps in our discursive or visionary gossip, room to stop and be present. Usually, someone is whispering some kind of seduction, some gossip behind our back: “It’s all very well to meditate, but how about going to the movies? Meditating is nice, but how about getting together with our friends? How about that? Shall we read that book? Maybe we should go to sleep. Shall we go buy that thing we want? Shall we? Shall we? Shall we?” Discursive thoughts constantly happening, numerous suggestions constantly being supplied—effort has no room to take place. Or maybe it is not discursive thoughts at all. Sometimes it is a continual vision of possibilities: “My enemy is coming and I’m hitting him—I want war.” Or, “My friend is coming, I’m hugging him, welcoming him to my house, giving him hospitality.” It goes on all the time. “I have a desire to eat lambchops—no, leg of lamb, steak, lemon ice cream. My friend and I could go out to the shop and get some ice cream and bring it home and have a nice conversation over ice cream. We could go to that Mexican restaurant and get tacos ‘to go’ and bring them back home. We’ll dip them in the sauce and eat together and have a nice philosophical discussion as we eat. Nice to do that with candlelight and soft music.” We are constantly dreaming of infinite possibilities for all kinds of entertainment. There is no room to stop, no room to start providing space. Providing space: effort, non-effort and effort, non-effort—it’s very choppy in a sense, very precise, knowing how to release the discursive or visionary gossip. Right effort—it’s beautiful.

The next one is “right mindfulness.” Right mindfulness does not simply mean being aware; it is like creating a work of art. There is more spaciousness in right mindfulness than in right effort. If you are drinking a cup of tea, you are aware of the whole environment as well as the cup of tea. You can therefore trust what you are doing, you are not threatened by anything. You have room to dance in the space, and this makes it a creative situation. The space is open to you.

The eighth aspect of the eightfold path is “right samadhi,” right absorption. Samadhi has the sense of being as it is, which means relating with the space of a situation. This pertains to one’s living situation as well as to sitting meditation. Right absorption is being completely involved, thoroughly and fully, in a non-dualistic way. In sitting meditation the technique and you are one; in life situations the phenomenal world is also part of you. Therefore you do not have to meditate as such, as though you were a person distinct from the act of meditating and the object of meditation. If you are one with the living situation as it is, your meditation just automatically happens.

The Four Noble Truths

The Truth of Suffering
The first of the Four Noble Truths is suffering, which is the usual translation of the Sanskrit word duhkha (Pali, dukkha). We should qualify that translation by saying that this does not mean that the Buddha didn’t acknowledge the existence of happiness or contentment in life. The point that he was making is that there is happiness and also sorrow in the world; but the reason why everything we experience in our everyday life is said to be duhkha is that even when we have some kind of happiness, it is not permanent; it is subject to change.~ So unless we can gain insight into that truth and understand what is really able to give us happiness, and what is unable to provide happiness, the experience of dissatisfaction will persist.

Normally we think our happiness is contingent upon external circumstances and situations, rather than upon our own inner attitude toward things, or toward life in general. The Buddha was saying that dissatisfaction is part of life, even if we are seeking happiness and even if we manage to find temporary happiness. The very fact that it is temporary means that sooner or later the happiness is going to pass. So the Buddha said that unless we understand this and see how pervasive dissatisfaction or duhkha is, it is impossible for us to start looking for real happiness.

According to the Buddha, even when we think we are trying to find real happiness, we are not doing it effectively, because we don’t have the right attitude and we don’t know where to look for it. The Buddha was not against happiness; rather, he gave us a method of finding out how to overcome that sense of dissatisfaction, and this method is part of the last Noble Truth. (We shall come to that soon.)

The key to understanding the truth of suffering is what the Buddha called the “three marks” of everything that exists. All conditioned phenomena,1 he said, are pervaded by these three marks: impermanence (anitya), dissatisfaction or suffering (duhkha), and insubstantiality (anatman, “without self”). According to the Buddha, if we do not understand how conditioned phenomena are marked by these three aspects, then we will not be able to understand the first Noble Truth. We may do all we can in order to avoid facing the fact that everything is contingent and transient—we may try to hide ourselves from it, and we may even spin out all kinds of metaphysical theories of an unchanging, permanent, substantial reality to avoid this all-pervasive nature of ephemerality. Also, if we do not understand that conditioned phenomena are unsatisfactory, we will not think about restraining ourselves from overindulgence in sensory gratifications, which makes us lose our center and become immersed in worldly concerns, so that our life is governed by greed, craving, and attachment. All of these things disturb the mind. If we do not understand that everything is insubstantial—anatman—then we may believe that there is some kind of enduring essence or substance in things, or in the personality, and because of this belief we generate delusion and confusion in the mind.

The Origin of Suffering
The second Noble Truth is the origin of suffering, which means that once we have realized that suffering or dissatisfaction exists, we next have to find out where that suffering comes from: does it originate within, or does it come from some kind of external situation or condition’ The Buddha said that when we start to examine ourselves and see how we respond to situations, how we act in the world, how we feel about things, then we will realize that the cause of suffering is within. This is not to say that external social or economic conditions don’t create suffering; but the main suffering that afflicts us is created by our own mind and attitude.

The Buddha said that if we want to overcome dissatisfaction, which is intimately linked with our experience of suffering, then we have to deal with craving, grasping, clinging, and attachment—all these exaggerated forms of desire. Now, some people think that Buddhists encourage the idea of eradicating desire altogether, but that is not what the Buddha said. He said that we should try to overcome excessive and exaggerated forms of desire, which manifest as craving, grasping, and so on, because they make our condition worse by increasing our sense of dissatisfaction and discontentment. It is the more obsessive types of desire that the Buddha said we should try to overcome. As long as we have these strong forms of desire, they will always be accompanied by aversion, hatred, resentment, and so forth, because when we can’t get what we want, we become frustrated, angry, and resentful. Or, if we find some obstacles in the way of satisfying our desire, we want to eliminate them, eradicate them, or attack them. We may even resort to violence and deception in order to satisfy our greed and craving. So the Buddha said that we need to deal with these extreme forms of desires; but we should not aim to eradicate desire altogether, because we can use desire in all kinds of positive ways as well.

The Goal: The Cessation of Suffering
The third Noble Truth is the goal. First we find out about the human condition, how it is pervaded by a sense of dissatisfaction, then we look at the cause of that dissatisfaction, and after that we look at the goal, which is the attainment of nirvana. Some people think nirvana is some kind of absolute reality that is transcendent and otherworldly. But the Buddha said that one can attain nirvana while still living in this world; this is called “nirvana with remainder.” One can also attain nirvana at the time of death, which is called “nirvana without remainder.” So it is possible to achieve nirvana in this very lifetime. Achieving nirvana means that one’s mind is no longer afflicted by delusion and emotional afflictions. The mind becomes tranquil, and one’s experience of happiness is no longer dependent upon external situations and circumstances. Therefore, one’s reaction to things is less extreme, and one is able to maintain a sense of tranquillity and peace, even when faced by adverse circumstances.

This is so because the one who has attained nirvana has overcome the three root delusions of attraction, aversion, and ignorance. When the mind is no longer governed by strong emotional reactions of either attraction and aversion, we can be at peace and tranquil even when things are not going right. We maintain a sense of fortitude and face things courageously.

The Path: The Way Out of Suffering
Having realized that this is the goal—to achieve a permanent happiness that is not based upon external changing conditions—we then have to find out how to apply ourselves in order to achieve that goal. This is what the fourth Noble Truth explains. The fourth Noble Truth is the path, and this is the essence of Buddhist practice. Known as the Eightfold Noble Path, it is oriented toward developing three things in an individual: moral sensitivity, meditation or the concentrated mind, and wisdom. Through the practice of moral sensitivity we become better individuals, able to overcome our egocentric tendencies. We become more compassionate and more sensitive to the needs of others. Through the practice of meditation our mind becomes more focused, more resilient, and more aware, which in turn gives rise to wisdom.

The Eightfold Noble Path consists of Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. The first two truths of Right Understanding and Right Thought correspond to the development of wisdom. Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood all develop our moral sensitivities. The last three—Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration—foster our meditative capabilities.

Right Understanding means understanding the Buddhist view, which, as we saw, is the middle view between eternalism and nihilism. As the Buddha said, knowing how the world arises due to causes and conditions enables us not to fall into the extreme of nihilism. The other aspect of the middle view is knowing how everything ceases when causes and conditions cease. Therefore, we do not fall into the extreme of the substantialist, essentialist, or eternalist view, because we realize that, even though things come into being through causes and conditions, nothing that exists on the physical or mental plane endures when those causes and conditions are no longer present.

Right Thought is associated with seeing how our thoughts and emotions are closely linked, and how indulging in negative forms of thought leads to the development of negative emotions such as hatred and jealousy. Conversely, thinking in a positive way has an effect on our emotions, whereby we start to become more loving, more caring, and more sensitive to others.

Right Speech means that if we are not aware—as normally we are not—then we don’t know what we are saying or doing. Inadvertently, we indulge in all kinds of negative forms of speech such as lying, backbiting, haughty speech, and gossip. It is important to become aware of our speech, because what we say and how we say it have a direct influence on the kind of person we become. If we are always using harsh words, then we naturally become very aggressive.

Right Action relates to seeing how what we do is beneficial or harmful to ourselves and others. This is involved with developing skill in the way we act in the world. Instead of thinking that we already know what is the right thing to do and what is the wrong thing to do, in a clear-cut manner, it is important to look closely at the way we act. We should not simply rely on some preestablished rules or social norms; instead we should see how we as individuals act in the world and what the effects of our actions are upon ourselves, the environment, and other people.

With respect to Right Livelihood, the Buddha said that there is nothing wrong with making money and looking after one’s family, but we must know how to make a living in a way that does not cause harm to others or ourselves. So, for example, we do not engage in an occupation that involves cruelty to animals or human beings, or one that obliges us to use deception or inflict physical or mental pain on others. If these things are involved, then we should give up that form of livelihood.

Right Effort has four aspects. The first effort has to do with prevention: making an effort through meditation to ensure that one does not yield to unwholesome thoughts and emotions, and trying to prevent these from arising in the mind. Unwholesome thoughts originate in attachment, aversion, and ignorance. The second effort is to reduce the unwholesome thoughts and emotions that have already arisen in the mind. The third effort is to develop wholesome thoughts and emotions, and this also is done in meditation. Even if they are not yet present, we should make an effort to arouse them. The fourth effort is to cultivate further those wholesome thoughts and emotions that have already risen in the mind.

Right Mindfulness is associated with becoming more attentive to our thoughts, emotions, feelings, speech, and behavior in meditation. Whatever we experience, we become more conscious of it and more attentive to it, so that we gain more insight into the workings of the mind and how the mind influences our actions in everyday life.

Right Concentration also develops from meditation. The mind becomes more focused and less distracted. Even if we hear or see or think of something, the mind does not become distracted but is still able to maintain a state of concentration.

So that is the Eightfold Noble Path, which leads the individual from this condition of samsara2 to the attainment of nirvana, or enlightenment. As we can see, the Four Noble Truths are both descriptive and prescriptive. They describe the condition we are in—what sort of conditions are prevalent and what the problems are. They also prescribe in terms of how to improve our situation, overcome our sense of dissatisfaction, and attain enlightenment through following the Eightfold Noble Path and its training in morality, meditation, and wisdom.

As I have said, the Four Noble Truths are the essence of all of the Buddha’s teachings. Without understanding them, we cannot proceed. All the later interpretations of the original Buddhist teachings are based on the understanding of the Four Noble Truths. There may be different ways of understanding how we can train in meditation, wisdom, or morality, but there is no disagreement in terms of the importance of the understanding of the Four Noble Truths. All other practices are based upon or elaborate these fundamental teachings of Buddhism.

1 “Conditioned phenomena” (Skt., samskrita; Pali, sankhate) means everything that exists is mutually conditioned owing to causes and conditions; things come into existence, persist for some time, and then disintegrate, thus suggesting the impermanent nature of the empirical world.

2 Samsara (Skt.) is cyclic existence, in which—owing to the corrupting influence of the mental delusions of hatred, desire, and ignorance—sentient creatures are compelled to wander from one life form to another without respite until they meet up with the spiritual path.

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