Internally, Externally, and Both

As a beautiful flower without fragrance is disappointing,
So are wise words without right action.
–– Dhammapada, “Flowers,” verse 51


An important set of four instructions is given by the Buddha in his basic teaching on Mindfulness, the Satipatthana Sutta. This set is referred to as the Refrain, and it occurs thirteen different times within the discourse. The first of these four instructions is, “We abide contemplating our experiences internally; we abide contemplating our experiences externally; and we abide contemplating our experiences both internally and externally.” There are many ways to interpret this, and, as we do, it is important to keep in mind that that the overall purpose of the Buddhist ethic is the end of suffering and the causes of suffering––internally, externally, and both. The Dharma teachings are about personal and collective transformation. These are inextricably linked. We want to “see clearly” the effects of our behavior––internally, externally, and both––in order to act wisely and compassionately and thereby change ourselves and change the world we share. “Freedom is possible,” states the third Noble Truth. “What we do in this world has an effect in this world” is the basic teaching on Karma.


The fragrance of flowers or sandalwood blows only with the prevailing wind,
But the fragrance of a wise, kind person pervades all directions.  
–– Dhammapada, “Flowers,” verse 54


The Refrain’s instruction supports a scope of practice that encompasses our inner cognitive and emotional lives, as well as our relationships with all others––people, plants, animals, the planet, the culture. It includes our interactive creation of sangha. It also enters into our individual and collective engagement in social, environmental, and political justice concerns. You will encounter this “boundless” range of Dharma practice reflected in the variety of items in this current newsletter––all of which reveal that VIMS is a vibrant, alive Buddhist community steeped in a wholistic view.


The VIMS teachers have been revisiting our community’s roots in the Early Buddhist Insight Tradition in order to deepen and clarify our direction. In so doing, we have, not surprisingly, found a strong emphasis in two areas: 1) personal and emotional healing and transformation; and 2) natural, active involvement in the collective life of our times. Bhikkhu Analayo affirms this when he speaks about coming to maturity as a monk in Sri Lanka, where there was no distinction between “on the cushion and off the cushion.” Our whole life is our practice––internally, externally, and both.


As many garlands can be made from a heap of flowers,
So too, much that is wholesome can be done during human existence.
–– Dhammapada, “Flowers,” verse 53
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