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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

There Is No Other Buddha


Our very nature is Buddha, and apart from this nature there is no other Buddha.

-The Sutra of Hui Neng

James's comment: This is exactly what I think of when ever I bow to a Buddha statue, picture or fellow being. I see the Buddha nature in everyone and everything and that has opened up a lot of peace and liberation. There are a lot of people who think/see the Buddha as a "God" as many Buddhists bow to these statues. However, the Buddha representations reflect our Buddha nature so that when we bow to the Buddha statue then we are acknowledging, respecting and bowing to that true nature. This allows us to cut through all the guilt, fear, duality and self-hatred to be reminded of our rightful presence.

-Peace to all beings-

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Love Yourself and Be Awake


Love yourself and be awake-
Today, tomorrow, always.

First establish yourself in the way,
Then teach others,
And so defeat sorrow.

To straighten the crooked
You must first do a harder thing-
Straighten yourself.

You are your only master.
Who else?
Subdue yourself,
And discover your master.

-The Dhammapada

-Peace to all beings-

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

We Have a Choice

meditation teaches us how to scrutinize our own perceptual process with great precision. We learn to watch the arising of thought and perception with a feeling of serene detachment. We learn to view our own reactions to stimuli with calm and clarity. We begin to see ourselves reacting without getting caught up in the reactions themselves. The obsessive nature of thought slowly dies. We can still get married. We can still step out of the path of the truck. But we don't need to go through hell over either one.

This escape from the obsessive nature of thought produces a whole new view of reality. It is a complete paradigm shift, a total change in the perceptual mechanism. It brings with it the feeling of peace and rightness, a new zest for living and a sense of completeness to every activity. Because of these advantages, Buddhism views this way of looking at things as a correct view of life and Buddhist texts call it seeing things as they really are.

Along with this new reality goes a new view of the most central aspect of reality: 'me'. A close inspection reveals that we have done the same thing to 'me' that we have done to all other perceptions. We have taken a flowing vortex of thought, feeling and sensation and we have solidified that into a mental construct. Then we have stuck a label onto it, 'me'. And forever after, we threat it as if it were a static and enduring entity. We view it as a thing separate from all other things. We pinch ourselves off from the rest of that process of eternal change which is the universe. And than we grieve over how lonely we feel. We ignore our inherent connectedness to all other beings and we decide that 'I' have to get more for 'me'; then we marvel at how greedy and insensitive human beings are. And on it goes. Every evil deed, every example of heartlessness in the world stems directly from this false sense of 'me' as distinct from all else that is out there.

The 'I' concept is a process. It is a thing we are doing. In Vipassana we learn to see that we are doing it, when we are doing it and how we are doing it. Then it moves and fades away, like a cloud passing through the clear sky. We are left in a state where we can do it or not do it, whichever seems appropriate to the situation. The compulsiveness is gone. We have a choice.

-Venerable Henepola Gunaratana
"Mindfulness in Plain English, " Chapter 3: What Meditation Is.

-Peace to all beings-

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Looking Forward?


How much of your life do you spend looking forward to being somewhere else?

-Matthew Flickstein, "Journey to the Center"

James's comment: This is a great reminder for me to stay in the present moment. It is so easy sometimes to just live for moments that may or may not happen. I think I am off balance too in "living for the weekends." One of my goals for this year is to stay more in the moment. Not lamenting the past and not dreaming too much for the future.

-Peace to all beings-

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Don't Expect Anything From Meditation


In meditation, don't expect anything. Just sit back and see what happens. Treat the whole thing as an experiment. Take an active interest in the test itself, but don't get distracted by your expectations about the results. For that matter, don't be anxious for any result whatsoever.

-Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, "Mindfulness in Plain English"

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Monday, January 23, 2006

The Buddha Explains True Love


The following conversation was between the Buddha and King Pasenadi from the book Old Path, White Clouds:

"Teacher Gautama, there are people who say you advise people not to love. They say you have said that the more a person loves, the more he will suffer and despair. I can see some truth in that statement, but I am unable to find peace with it. Without love, life would seem empty of meaning. Please help me resolve this.

The Buddha looked at the king warmly. "You majesty, your question is a very good one, and many people can benefit from it. There are many kinds of love. We should examine closely the nature of each kind of love. Life has a great need of the presence of love, but not the sort of love that is based on lust, passion, attachment, discrimination, and prejudice.

Majesty, there is another kind of love, sorely needed, which consists of loving kindness and compassion, or maitri and karuna.

Usually when people speak of love they are referring only to the love that exists between parents and children, husbands and wives, family members, or the members of one's caste of country. Because the nature of such love depends on the concepts of 'me' and 'mine', it remains entangled in attachment and discrimination. People want only to love their parents, spouse, children, grandchildren, their own relatives and countrymen. Because they are caught in attachment, they worry about accidents that could befall their loves ones even before such things actually take place. When such accidents do occur, they suffer terribly. Love that is based on discrimination breeds prejudice. People become indfferent or even hostile to those outside their own circle of love. 


Attachment and discrimination are sources of suffering for ourselves and others. Majesty, the love for which all beings truly hunger is loving kindness and compassion. Maitri is the love that has the capacity to bring happiness to another. Karuna is the love which has the capacity to remove another's suffering. Maitri and karuna do not demand anything in return. Loving kindness and compassion are not limited to one's parents, spouse, children, relatives, caste members, and countrymen. They extend to all people and all beings. In maitri and karuna there is no discrimination no 'mine' or 'not mine.' And because there is no discrimination, there is no attachment. 


Maitri and karuna bring happiness and ease suffering. They do not cause suffering and despair. Without them, life would be empty of meaning, as you said. Without loving kindness and compassion, life is filled with peace, joy, and contentment.
[...]
It is not just some ideal. It is something which can actually be realized, especially by someone like you who has so many means at his disposal."
[...]
Just because one loves one's own people is no reason not to love the peoples of other kingdoms."
[...]
"The prosperity and security of one nation should not depend on the poverty and insecurity of other nations. Majesty, lastings peace and prosperity are only possible when nations join together in a common commitment to seek the welfare of all.

James's: Foreign policy based on loving kindness and compassion could prevent so many wars.

If you truly want Kosala to enjoy peace and to prevent the young men of your kingdom from losing their lives on the battlefield, you must help other kingdoms find peace. Foreign and economic policies must follow the way of compassion for true peace to be possible.
[...]
If our love is based on a selfish desire to possess others, we will not be able to bring them peace and happiness. On the contrary, our love will make them feel trapped. Such a love is no more than a prison.
[...]
If you want your loved ones to be happy, you must learn to understand their sufferings and aspirations. When you understand, you will know how to relieve their sufferings and how to help them fulfill their aspirations. That is true love. If you only want you loved ones to follow your own ideas and you remain ignorant of their needs, it is not truly love. It is only a desire to possess another and attempt to fulfill your own needs, which cannot be fulfilled in that way.

PHOTO CREDIT: This is a gorgeous painting from my fellow artist Katherine Skaggs who painted my "soul portrait" this past summer. I recommend her art to anyone who likes deep, beautiful art.
-Peace to all beings-

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Sit In the Fire


The experience of studying Zen is like hiding your body in fire: even if you have iron guts and a brass heart, here they will surely melt and flux.

-Chien-ju

James: Great imagery here on impermanence and change. This teaching is not unlike the refiners fire teaching found in Christianity.

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Friday, January 20, 2006

Thoughts from Sri Aurobindo


An original and ultimate consciousness would be a consciousness of the Infinite and necessarily unitarian in its view of diversity, intergal, all-accepting, all embracing, all-discrimination because all-determining, an invisible whole-vision.

To understand truly the world-process of the Infinite and the Time-process of the Eternal, the consciousness must pass beyond this finite reason and the finite sense to a larger reason and spiritual sense in touch with the consciousness of the Infinite and responsive to the logic of the Infinite which is the very logic of being itself and arises inevitably from its self -operation of its own realities, a logic whose sequences are not the steps of thought but the steps of existence.

[...]

Earth is not limited by the vessels made from it, nor air by the winds that move in it, nor the sea by the waves that rise on its surface. This impression of limitation belongs only to the mind and sense which see the finite as if it were an independent entity separating itself from the Infinite or something cut out of it by limitation: it is this impression that is illusory, but neither the infinite nor the finite is an illusion; for neither exists by the impressions of the sense or the mind, they depend for the existence on the Absolute.

[...]

The Absolute is in itself indefinable by reason, ineffable to the speech; it has to be approached through experiene.

James: Excerpts from the book, "The Life Divine" by Sri Aurobindo.

-Peace to all beings-

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Advice Wanted


My dear friend Andi wrote to me this afternoon with a question regarding something she read on Beliefnet:

In the same way that someone in the midst of a rough crowd guards a wound with great care, so in the midst of bad company should one always guard the wound that is the mind.

-Santideva, "Bodhicaryavatara"

James: And here is her email to me:

Hey James.

I know your Buddhist blog isn't an advice column, but I would be very interested in your interpretation of this dharma teaching. Dealing with "bad company" in my house, as it were, I'm trying to find a middle path between closing myself off from it and at the same time remaining open to any positive experiences that are offered to me. It's really f**king hard.

I noticed, too, that this teaching is very specific; "the wound that is the mind" - so I understand guarding one's mind from negativity, patterns of behavior and thinking that perpetuate suffering - but what do we do about protecting the heart? I'm sure that making a division between the heart and the mind is another one of those illusions that we cling to - I'm just not sure how to frame an appropriate meditation - does that make any sense? It's almost as if the language we use makes it more difficult to drop the illusion itself. Maybe Tibetan has better words for it ;)

I'd love to know your opinion about this, and possibly hear from other regular readers of the Buddhist Blog. I will totally understand, however, if you choose not to post it, for whatever reasons you might have.

namaste.
~andi

James's comment: I like to see thoughts as clouds that arise and pass by without much more then that. We can get worried about the dark clouds but they too pass with time.

I also like the idea of waves crashing onto the rocks. We often find ourselves on the rocks of attachment to negative thoughts.

However, when we detach from the waves by climbing up to a "Higher Ground" we can see those same waves as beautiful, soft and without real mean-spiritedness. We see them as simply a manifestation of the life-giving water that runs out of our tap.

Taking the time to spend some moments on the "Higher Ground" through meditation and/or reading some positive and healing words help us nourish and protect our heart in the middle of a heavy storm.

I also like to use mantras and gathas to help when I am in a situation where I can not privately meditate. You can do this in mind or in a private place such as the bathroom or while taking a shower/bath. This is the one I like to use the most:

(Breathing)

In...out...deep...slow...calm...ease...smiling...release...present moment...wonderful moment...only moment.

I hope that helps Andi.

To others:

Anyone with some advice for Andi, feel free to respond.

-Peace to all beings-

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Cyber Mindfulness Bell


One of the members of my Sangha informed the group last time that she has a little mindfulness bell program on her computer at work! You can set it to ring once an hour, every 15 minutes or at random. I was excited to hear about it since I spend a lot of time on my laptop (probably too much time). Anyway, it is a beautiful sound and every time I hear it I stop my typing, settle my breath and say, "I listen, I listen. This wonderful sound brings me back to my true home."

Here is the link if you would like to download it onto your computer as well.

Photo Credit: The big bell at Inwangsan, Seoul, South Korea. http://anxiousdog.blogs.com/photos/seoul/bell.html

-Peace to all beings-

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Monday, January 16, 2006

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 - 1968)


Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

Martin Luther King Jr.,
December 11, 1964

James's comment: Let's all take a moment to remember the life and legacy of this great man as well as his liberating teachings of freedom and equality of all.

He was gunned down because of fear and ignorance and yet his words and legacy rose out of death to live forever.

In my opinion this wonderful man is a Bodhisattva. He was a great teacher of impermanence in that change will always occur and that we must be willing to flow with life's changes. Yet push to find a good current within that stream rather then stay stuck in a stagnant pool.

-Peace to all beings-

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Wondrous Path of Difficulties


The following are excerpts from an article from the magazine BuddhaDharma lent to me by a member from my Sangha. It is an event and discussion with two of America's most respected and beloved Buddhist teachers: Pema Chodron and Jack Kornfield. I found it most helpful given my recent struggles:

Michael Krasny: We haven't had an easy time getting this event off the ground. I suppose we could look at all this as a good opportunity to find transformation within.

Pema Chodron: Yes, I think so. Difficulties are inevitable -- and helpful [...] Doesn't some problem like the one we've had tonight happen every day of your life in major or minor ways? Yet, for some reason we keep thinking something has gone wrong.

The Buddhist teachings are fabulous at simply working with what's happening as your path of awakening, rather then treating your life experiences as some kind of deviation from what is supposed to be happening. The more difficulties you have, in fact, the greater opportunity there is to let them transform you. The difficult things provoke all your irritations and bring your habitual patterns to the sufface.

Jack Kornfield: In the monastery where I trained my teacher would gather us together and then he'd be waylaid for some reason or another. Without fail, disruptions would always occur that we would have to deal with in the interim. I learned later that he was deliberately setting this up [...]

Pema Chodron: We get misled by the ads in magazines where people are blissful in their matching outfits, which also match their meditation cushions. We can get to thinking that meditation and the spiritual path is about transcending the difficulties in your life and find this just swell place. But that doesn't help you very much because that sets you up for being constantly disappointed with what happens every day at breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- all day long.

Jack Kornfield: Yes, we have these great ideals about how we've supposed to be [...] we don't have to pretend that our irritablity is not there or compare it unfavorably with our ideal version of ourselves. We could simply take a breath and say, "This is how I am -- this is anger, this is fear, this is irritation." [...] In that regard I would like to read to you my new favorite little piece: "If you can sit quietly after difficult news, if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm, if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy, if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate and fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill, if you can always find contentment just where you are, you are probably a dog."

There's a certain sense of humor that is absolutely necessary for our human condition. When we have that sense of humor, things become workable. It's the part that we put on top of our ordinary human experience that creates the problem -- and we all put something on top of it when we started spiritual search. You then not only have your own suffering, you have all these ideals and images that you hold up for yourself. That puts a layer of spiritual suffering on top of the basic suffering [...] One of the great blessings I see in people who have committed themselves to a Buddhist practice is that their capacity for both joy and for dealing with the sorrows and pain of life grows. Practice opens the doors for both.

Pema Chodron: [...] If you live alone -- and I am often alone in a retreat cabin or similar setting -- you have everything just the way you want it. So it's really good to have people come in and mess things up. Otherwise, you think the meaning of life is just to get everything working the way you want it. But lo and behold, life becomes increasingly irritating as soon as you add even one more thing into your life.

[...] One of the tenets of the Buddhist teachings is that every living being has basic goodness, and we can communicate with each other from that place regardless of whether or not it influences world politics or changes someone's religion. In fact, that can't be the goal [...] Trungpa Rinpoche once said that everybody knows how to love, even if it's only tortillas.

Jack Kornfield: [...] One of the great Buddhist teachings -- is to remind ourselves, and others, that we all have a great capacity to hold all the sorrows and joys of the world. An aspect of our great openness is our ability to tolerate suffering.

[...] Everybody has their own burdens. Everybody has their own measure of sorrows. Relatively speaking, some might carry an enormous burden, but everybody has a fair measure. It's just part of the human condition. When you speak of the first noble truth, you acknowledge that this is how our human incarnation is.

Pema Chodron: [...] Compassion toward yourself is something worth exploring more. [...] Without self-compassion or some kind of loving-kindness toward oneself, nothing is ever going to happen on the spiritual path. It will never get of the ground.

[...] I learned in teaching people that almost anything you say to them can get twisted into something they use against themselves: "Oh I can't do that. I'm not good enough to do that." [...] When they look into themselves, they find impatience, bad tempers, and lots of right and wrong.

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, the teacher I am studying with right now, says that in order to progress along the spiritual path, you need to be able to self-reflect, to really look at yourself honestly. He says that's where most Western people get stopped right away. They sit down, they start to meditate, then they begin to self-reflect and to see clearly their habitual patterns, thoughts, and emotions. Then everything is immediately twisted into self-loathing, self-disapproval, or self-denigration. Consequently he teaches a lot about guiltlessness. He discusses the poison of guilt and how it never lets you grow. When you are guilty, you can never go any further. Somehow for self-reflection to work, there has to be a lot of emphasis on loving-kindness and friendliness toward yourself. But that doesn't mean self-indulgence.

[...] You find that out through self-reflection, but if it twists, and you use what you see against yourself, you will lose track and get angry at yourself without noticing it anymore: "How could I even consider myself a meditator or a Buddhist? I've been meditating now for fifteen years and look at me! I still have this bad temper and all the other stuff!!" You need to be kind as you look at yourself and not let it turn into loathing.

Jack Kornfield: One of the instructions I've loved offering to people over the past decade or two is to suggest that they do a year of loving-kindness for themselves as a practice. All of a sudden, people find out how difficult it is to do that. People feel unworthy and that they shouldn't be directing such kindess toward themselves. They cannot wish themselves happiness. So, intially, it's very painful. But after a while it does start to change people ... we do have this capacity to care for ourselves and we are worthy of it, and when we discover that, it immediately translates into generosity toward others.

Pema Chondron: [...] We need to let go of our storylines. The meditation practices teach us to notice thoughts, touch them, and let them go allow us to let go of the story lines. Then we can get in touch with the underlying raw feeling of guilt itself. That's the nowness we were talking about earlier -- being completely present with the discomfort that comes with the guilt and not simply feeding it with thoughts.

Jack Kornfield: You can do things out of guilt that are good, but that doesn't alleviate your own suffering. What we're really asking ourselves here is how do we act in a way that brings goodness and benefit to other people but that also releases all the suffering we carry in our own hearts? To do that you have to pay some attention to yourself.

-Peace to all beings-

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Friday, January 13, 2006

"I" Is Just a Swinging Door That Moves


If you think, “I breathe,” the “I” is extra. There is no you to say “I.” What we call “I” is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale. It just moves; that is all. When your mind is pure and calm enough to follow this movement, there is nothing: no “I,” no world, no mind nor body; just a swinging door.

-Shunryu Suzuki, "Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind"

James's comment: Just breath.

-Peace to all beings-

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Mine Fields, Holographic Prisons, Prefectionism, Holes and Parables



Words are funny and often times leave much lacking. Words like "perfection," "sin" and "judgement" are mine fields for the middle path traveller. However, I found myself today straying yet again from the cleary marked path right smack into the mine field. I was too busy giving into the siren song hallucinogen of the thought process that I ended up dancing in the mine field. Finding myself caught in my own traps I froze thinking I was really up a creek this time.

How did I get here? Who was the devil who ensnared me? (for it must have been someone other then myself I wrongfully deduced). Well, I was punishing myself through judging my "thoughts" (there's a huge step into the mine field right there). I was punishing myself for "thinking" about "things" (another giant step) that feed the "self." How interesting.

My selfish nature wanted to "punish," "my-self" for not being "perfect." Falling into a void of martydom that only made things worse.

My "freedom" came surprisingly from the very words that confined, judged and punished me in the first place! I was reminded by the whisperings of the Buddha that perfection is already present in everything that exists and does not exist.

"Perfection" as we know it (or at least from my Judeo-Christian upbringing) (if anything) seems to be a holographic prison rather then the path. We can easily break out of a holographic prison but until we "convince" our "minds" that the prison is made from holographic bars and walls then we will forever stay in those cells weeping and wailing that we are "stuck" and/or "lost" from the path when we were still on the path all along.

Perhaps my words in this very entry only bring me back to that holographic prison but somehow I have won my freedom via them so here I stand again back on the path.

Meditating on the following has brought me back more balance, freedom and stability as well:

Nothing to do or undo,
Nothing to be or not be,
Nothing to judge or not judge.

I hope I have not lost you completely with my "thoughts" and musings today.

And yet here I go with some more words:

The Parable of the Hole in the Road:

On the first day... a man walks down a street...
Suddenly the world goes dark. He thinks he is lost.
Then he realizes he is in a deep hole. He tries to find his way out, and it takes a very long time. Once he is out the day is gone ... so he walks back home.

On the second day... the man walks down the same street.
The world goes dark again. He is in the hole again.
He takes a while to recognize where he is. Eventually he finds his way out... and so again he walks back home.

On the third day... the man again walks down the street.
He knows the hole is there and pretends not to see the hole... and closes his eyes.
Once again he falls into the hole, and climbs out ... and walks back home, the day lost once again.

On the fourth day... the man walks cautiously down the street.
He sees the hole and this time walks around it. He is pleased.
But the world goes dark again. He has fallen into another hole.
He climbs out of the second hole, walks home ... and alas... falls into the first hole. He gets out of the first hole... and walks back home... to think.

On the fifth day... the man walks confidently down the street.
He sees the first hole..... and recognizes it.
He walks around it... but forgets the second hole, which he walks directly into. He gets out immediately... and walks straight back home - to weep and hope.

On the sixth day... the man walks nervously down the street...The hole is there and he thinks "I won't fall into the hole again"... and walks around the hole. He sees the second hole, avoids the second hole... but as he passes, he loses his balance... and falls in. Climbing out he walks back home ... taking the time to carefully avoid all the holes. On the seventh day... the same man goes for a walk....

... and chooses to walk down a different street.

-Peace to all beings-

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Death Has No Power

Moghavagan came to the Buddha. "I have come to you with a question, great sage. I am afraid of death. Is there any way to look upon the world so as not to be seen by the king of death?"

"Look upon the world as empty," the Buddha replied. "This is the way to overcome death. Cease thinking of yourself as an entity that really exists. If you look on the world in this way you will never be seen by the king of death."

-Sutta Nipata.

James's comment: Before finding the Dharma I was quite terrified with death and was rather obsessed with it. At the time I believed that I had a seperate "self" or "soul" and felt very attached to this holographic concept. I was fearful of the thought that I might "loose my soul" upon dying.

However, upon finding the Dharma and awakening I saw and experienced the emptiness of the world and the impermanence of things. I have found peace with death and realized it really doesn't even exist as a "thing" or even as a concept with any inherent existence.

Once one is free from the grasp of death by realizing the emptiness of all things then the world is no longer a place to fear.

-Peace to all beings-

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Spontaneous Vajra Song



A few years ago my wife, parents and I went to see Lama Surya Das speak and they were handing out this poem on a little flyer. I find great refuge and calm from reading it time to time and wanted to share it with you all (Picture is actually of the poem's author the Venerable Lama Gendun Rinpoche).

-James

Happiness can not be found
through great effort and willpower,
but is already present,
in open relaxation and letting go.

Don't strain yourself,
there is nothing to do or undo.
Whatever momentarily arises
in the body-mind
has no real importance at all,
has little reality whatsoever.
Why identify with,
and become attached to it,
passing judgement upon it and ourselves?

Far better to simply
let the entire game happen on its own,
springing up and falling back like waves
without changing or manipulating anything
and notice how everything vanishes and reappears, magically,
again and again, time without end.

Only our searching for happiness
prevents us from seeing it.
It's like a vivid rainbow which you pursue
without ever chatching,
or a dog chasing its own tail.

Although peace and happiness
do not exist as an actual thing or place,
it is always available
and accompanies you every instant.

Don't believe in the reality of good and bad experiences;
they are like today ephemeral weather,
like rainbows in the sky.

Wanting to grasp the ungraspable,
you exhaust yourself in vain.
As soon as you open and relax
this tight fist of grasping,
infinite space is there -
open, inviting and comfortable.

Make use of this spaciousness, this
freedom and natural ease.
Don't search any further
looking for the great awakened elephant,
who is already resting quietly at home
in front of your own hearth.

Nothing to do or undo,
nothing to force,
nothing to want,
and nothing missing -

Emaho! Marvelous!
Everything happens by itself.

-By Venerable Lama Gendun Rinpoche

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Monday, January 09, 2006

At One With All Things

After my usual sitting meditation I like to do a bit of walking meditation. I like to meander our neighborhood and the ones adjacent. I then like to walk along a path behind the hospital which is always a good reminder to me of impermanence.

The other day I was walking along and came across a beautiful, red breasted robin. I began whistling along with it and then I thought, "I am apart of this bird as we both share the color red. In his/her feathers and in my goatee."

Then I came across a young boy who was skate boarding in his drive-way and I thought back on my childhood and realized that I was also this boy. I use to skate board for hours on end.

I move on.

As I did I heard the distinct call of a chickadee and began to call it and we had a lovely conversation back and forth as I walked past his perch.

I was in the moment and at One with all things.

-Peace to all beings-

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Diamond Sutra


Anyone who, even for a second, feels a pure, clear confidence on hearing the truth will experience immeasurable happiness. Why? Because, at that moment, that person is not caught up in the concept of a self or a living being or a life span. He is not caught up in concepts about the world, nor is he caught up in concepts about nothingness. He does not take any notice of the idea that this is a sign, or this or that is not a sign.

For if you are caught up in ideas, then you will be caught up in the self. And even if you are caught up in ideas about nothingness, you will still be caught up in the self. That's why we should not get attached to the belief that things either exist or do not exist. This is the hidden meaning when I say that my teachings are a raft to be abandoned when you see true being.

-Diamond Sutra

James's comment: The more I read the great sutras such as the Diamond and Heart sutras I seem to find more and more deeper levels of understanding and the deeper I peel back the layers the more simple the teachings become. I've really been focusing my practice on these two great teachings in my meditations and contemplations lately. Yet another reminder to me that true understanding only comes from personal experience.

One can read and read and philosophize over the teachings but (in my humble opinion) we gain so much more when we put them into practice and just sit with them.

-Peace to all beings-

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Friday, January 06, 2006

Buddhism is not a Philosophy or Doctrine


The following conversation was between the ascetic Dighanaka and Gautama the Buddha from the book Old Path White Clouds by Thich Nhat Hanh:

Dighanakha asked the Buddha, "Gautama, what is your teaching? What are your doctrines? For my part, I dislike all doctrines and theories. I don't subscribe to any at all."

The Buddha smiled and asked, "Do you subscribe to your doctrine of not following and doctrines? Do you believe in your doctrine of not-believing?"

Somewhat taken aback, Dighanakha replied, "Gautama whether I believe of don't believe is no importance."

The Buddha spoke gently, "Once a person is caught by belief in a doctrine, he loses all his freedom. When on becomes dogmatic, he believes his doctrine is the only truth and that all other doctrines are heresy. Disputes and conflicts all arise from narrow views. They can extend endlessly, wasting precious time and sometimes even leading to war. Attachment to views is the greatest impediment to the spiritual path. Bound to narrow views, one becomes so entangled that it is no longer possible to let the door of truth open."

[...]

Dighanakha asked, "But what of your own teaching? If someone follows your teaching will he become caught in narrow views?"

"My teaching is not a doctrine or a philosophy. It is not the result of discursive thought or mental conjecture like various philosophies which contend that the fundamental essence of the universe is fire, water, earth, wind, or spirit, or that the universe is either finite or infinite, temporal, or eternal. Mental conjecture and discursive thought about truth are like ants crawling around the rim of the bowl -- they never get anywhere. The things I say come from my own experience. You can confirm them all by your own experience.

[...]

My goal is not to explain the universe, but to help guide others to have a direct experience of reality. Words cannot describe reality. Only direct experience enables us to see the true face of reality."

Dighanakha exclaimed, "Wonderful, wonderful Gautama! But what would happen if a person did perceive your teaching as a dogma?"

[...]

I must state clearly that my teaching is method to experience reality and not reality itself, just as a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon itself. An intelligent person makes use of the finger to see the moon."

-Peace to all beings-

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Miracle of Mindfulness


Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves. Consider, for example: a magician who cuts his body into many parts and places each part in a different region--hands in the south, arms in the east, legs in the north, and then by some miraculous power lets forth a cry which reassembles whole every part of his body. Mindfulness is like that--it is the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each minute of life.

-Thich Nhat Hanh, "Miracle of Mindfulness"

James's comment: This is exactly what I need to hear today after yesterday's depression and feeling not very spiritual. "Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves."

The Buddha said the following regarding mindfulness which is recorded in the Sutta Satipatthana:

According to the text, it is 'the direct path to the attainment of purity, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the end of pain and grief...for the realization of nibbana'.

Present moment, wonderful moment, Only moment.

I had a beautifully healing meditation this morning. I was at peace and in the moment with each sweet breath. I was feeling deep and calming interconnectivity to you all, the great teachers, the countless Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and everything that exists and does not exist. I knew that many of you are in a good place and since I am apart of you then I am in that good place as well. My feeling of isolation and fear was just that -- fear. I was safe and grounded all a long. I just needed the bell of mindfulness to clear away the fog and leave the bright reality of the clear and present mind behind.

Speaking of the mindfulness bell I was listening to a dharma talk by Thay after my meditation. I was especially struck with his gatha about inviting the bell. It goes like this:

Body, space and mind in perfect Oneness.
I send my heart along with the sound of this bell.
May the hearers awaken from their forgetfulness and transcend the path of anxiety and sorrow.

Upon hearing the bell the hearer is to say to themselves:

I listen, listen deeply this wonderful sound brings me back to my true home.

I substituted my name in with the gatha about inviting the bell to go like this:

Body, space and mind in perfect Oneness.
I send my heart along with the sound of this bell.
May James awaken from his forgetfulness and transcend the path of anxiety and sorrow.

This was a powerful revelation for me. I've "heard" this gatha before but I had not truly heard it with the ears of mindfulness until now.

The other teaching that is critical to our/my progress is that of impermanence (thanks Gareth for the reminder). Expecting to climb the mountain of samsara without thinking I would be blown around in the wind from time to time is to live and attach to a delusion.

Just because I have experienced a strong wind during one moment along this path does not mean that all moments will be windy. I must push on and realize that the wind will eventually die down. Just because I experience a gust of wind does not mean I should throw the entire path away and turn back.

-Peace to all beings-

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Monday, January 02, 2006

Advice and Encouragement Needed

The last few days I haven't felt very "Buddhist" but then again what is a "Buddhist" anyway?

I've been battling with my perfection/self-mortification complex that was deep rooted in growing up in an extreme Christian environment.

The ironic thing is that lately I've been getting into a deeper practice by meditating everyday so who knows.

A large part of this too is my chemical imbalance which sometimes holds me hostage for weeks at a time. From time to time I can lesson the blow but it still makes a major impact on me.

Even despite my medications I have still been feeling depressed and not very "spiritual."

Perhaps I'm just thinking too much.

I guess what I'm trying to get at is I need some advice and some encouragement if you have any.

Thanks.

(PHOTO: Temple on the mountain of Emei Shan in China. CREDIT: Nigel and Julie Snow).

-Peace to all beings-

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The Knowing Mind of Sentient Beings


The realm of reality is as vast as cosmic space; it is the knowing mind of sentient beings that is small. Just as long as you do not become egotistic and selfish, you will be ever sated with the spiritual food of nirvana.

-Pao-chih

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Dalai Lama on Guilt and a Seperate Discussion from Various Sources on Intoxicants and Sex


James's comment: I have been feeling a bit guilty of late for enjoying a glass of wine now and then as well as a few other vices. In this thinking I found the following comment on guilt by the Dalai Lama to be very insightful:


Q: If we have committed a serious negative act, how can we let go of the feeling of guilt that may follow?

A: In such situations, where there is a danger of feeling guilty and therefore depressed, the Buddhist point of view advises adopting certain ways of thinking and behaving which will enable you to recover your self-confidence. A Buddhist may reflect on the nature of the mind of. a Buddha, on its essential purity, and in what way disturbing thoughts and their subsequent emotions are of an entirely different nature. Because such disturbing emotions are adventitious, they can be eliminated. To think of the immense well of potential hidden deep within our being, to understand that the nature of the mind is fundamental purity and kindness and to meditate on its luminosity, will enable you to develop self-confidence and courage.

The Buddha says in the Sutras that fully enlightened and omniscient beings, whom we consider to be superior, did not spring from the bowels of the earth, nor did they fall from the sky; they are the result of spiritual purification. Such beings were once as troubled as we are now, with the same weaknesses and flaws of ordinary beings. Shakyamuni Buddha himself, prior to his enlightenment, lived in other incarnations that were far more difficult than our present lives. To recognize, in all its majesty, our own potential for spiritual perfection is an antidote to guilt, disgust, and hopelessness. Nagarjuna says in "The Precious Garland of Advice for the King" that pessimism and depression never help in finding a good solution to any problem. On the other hand, arrogance is just as negative. But to present as an antidote to it a posture of extreme humility may tend to foster a lack of self-confidence and open the door to depression and discouragement. We would only go from one extreme to the other.

I would like to point out that to set out on a retreat for three years full of hope and expectations, thinking that without the slightest difficulty you will come Out of it fully enlightened, can turn into a disaster, unless you undertake it with the most serious intentions. If you overestimate your expectations and have too much self-confidence, you will be headed for dissatisfaction and disillusionment. When you think of what the Buddha said--that perfect enlightenment is the result of spiritual purification and an accumulation of virtues and wisdom for eons and eons--it is certain that courage and perseverance will arise to accompany you on the path.

Commentary on the 5 Precepts and Alcohol:

5) To undertake the training to abstain from substances which cause intoxication and heedlessness. This precept is in a special category as it does not infer any intrinsic evil in, say, alcohol itself but indulgence in such a substance could be the cause of breaking the other four precepts.

James's comment: I think that (with regard to say drinking alcohol) that balance is the main thing if you choose to indulge. I will say, however, that not drinking is the best choice.

Commentary on the 5 precepts and sexuality:

Buddhism does have a strong sexual ethic, but not a repressive one. The main point of this ethic is non-harming in an area of life where we can do a lot of damage by acting violently, manipulatively or deceitfully. These and breaches of the other precepts - ill will, taking the non-given, lying and stupefaction - are the Buddhist no-no's in sexual practice.

Are the Five Precepts hard to observe?:

The Five Precepts are never meant to restrict as they protect oneself and others when observed well. Breaking a precept is not considered a sin - it is seen as an unskillful act due to the lack of Wisdom. A lay Buddhist may find the Five Precepts difficult to observe completely and constantly in the beginning, but one should not be disheartened. Even if one is able to observe only one or two precepts successfully, one is already laying the foundation for happiness now and in the future. One may make a daily renewal of one’s determination to observe the precepts to remind oneself of the ideal way of life one should lead.

---End of Transmission---

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Into the Beyond


Plunge boldly into the Beyond, then be free wherever you are.

-Shoitsu

James's comment: This reminds me of the Great Heart Sutra mantra that goes: Om gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha. This is roughly translated into english as, "Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone completely beyond; praise to enlightenment."

When we go beyond all "things" but stay in the moment at the same time we find ourselves perfectly in the river of understanding of impermanence and no-self.

In this moment we find true enlightenment.

-Peace to all beings-

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