(1) A religious devotee showeth weakness
if he allow his mind to be obsessed with worldly thoughts while dwelling in solitude.
(2) A religious devotee who is the head of a monastery showeth weakness if he seek his own interests [rather than those of the brotherhood].
(3) A religious devotee showeth weakness if he be careful in the observance of moral discipline and lacking in moral restraint.
(4) It showeth weakness in one who hath entered upon the Righteous Path to cling to worldly feelings of attraction and repulsion.
(5) It showeth weakness in one who hath renounced worldliness and entered the Holy Order to hanker after ac- quiring merit.
(6) It showeth weakness in one who hath caught a glimpse of Reality to fail to persevere in sadhana [or yogic meditation] till the dawning of Full Enlightenment.
(7) It showeth weakness in one who is a religious devotee to enter upon the Path and then be unable to tread it.
(8) It showeth weakness in one who hath no other occupation than religious devotion to be unable to eradicate from himself unworthy actions.
(9) It showeth weakness in one who hath chosen the religious career to have hesitancy in entering into close re- treat while knowing full well that the food and everything needed would be provided unasked.
(10) A religious devotee who exhibiteth occult powers when practising exorcism or in driving away diseases showeth weakness.
(11) A religious devotee showeth weakness if he barter sacred truths for food and money.
(12) One who is vowed to the religious life showeth weakness if he cunningly praise himself while disparaging others.
(13) A man of religion who preacheth loftily to others and doth not live loftily himself showeth weakness.
(14) One who professeth religion and is unable to live in solitude in his own company and yet knoweth not how to make himself agreeable in the company of others showeth weakness.
(15) The religious devotee showeth weakness if he be not indifferent to comfort and to hardship.
Mind, Writer's Mind
A symposium with authors Natalie Goldberg and Steve Hagen.
Natalie Goldberg: About two hours ago, my mind snapped to something that I want to tell you about. My partner Michele's grandmother was brought up in France. When Michele's grandmother was 26 years old and her mother was a little girl of five, the Nazis came to Paris. They took Michele's great-grandparents. The family was told they were going to work camps. Next the able-bodied men were taken, so her husband and brother were soon gone, too. The women and children were next. Eventually everybody was taken. Suddenly she woke up and understood that nobody was coming back. Immediately she contacted the underground, and she and her daughter went into hiding for three years. She was an ordinary housewife who loved to dance and play cards, and suddenly she was in the underground protecting her daughter, hiding out in small French towns, doing this and that to survive.
Today she lives in the U.S. She has a short perm and loves Las Vegas and action movies. But if you go to her and carry on-"Oh, Nana, I lost my job"-she'll listen to everything, and when you're done she'll say very quietly, "Not so bad."
After spending some time with her, I've come to realize that she had a deep awakening experience when she realized no one was coming back from the camps. She didn't have anyone to tell her, "Oh, you've become awake." But her mind changed. She saw things in a real way.
When you're with her, she's so ordinary you can't believe it. At the same time there's something different about her. You feel this complete acceptance from her. But you have to pay attention, because she's also like any other 85-year-old Nana. I love being around her.
I think the combination of writing and Zen did something like that for me. In my first book, Chicken and in Love, a book of poetry, I wrote about ordinary things, things that you would think a Jewish American woman from New York would write about. I wrote about the Holocaust, about marrying a non-Jew, about times I was unhappy. But I found my true voice when a Japanese Zen teacher and zazen crossed this Jewish woman's life. The combination broke my voice open, and that's when I wrote Writing Down The Bones, which is totally based in the dharma. I think if I had just continued writing Natalie's stuff and being Jewish and from Brooklyn, it would have been good, but it wouldn't have broken open my voice. It was the combination of Zen and writing that woke me up.
I was lucky. I didn't have to be in the Holocaust to wake up. I didn't have my lover dying of AIDS, or, like Zen master Dogen, have my mother die when I was very young. A lot of Zen masters had very tough early childhoods, losing one or both parents at an early age.
Steve and I are here tonight to talk about being writers and being Buddhists and how those two realms work together. I'll start by saying that writing without Buddhism means nothing to me. Zen without writing is okay, but it's not as lovely or as alive for me without the writing. For me, the combination is my true expression.
Steve Hagen: While Natalie was talking, I was thinking about the 1992 vice-presidential debates. Do you remember Admiral Stockwell, Ross Perot's running mate? When it was his turn to speak, the first thing he said was, "Who am I and why am I here?" I feel like I'm in that situation right now. You see, we're billed as two Buddhist writers and I suppose I am one-I was ordained a Zen priest over twenty years ago and I've published some books. But I don't go around with any sense of being either a Buddhist or a writer. In fact, much of the time I try to forget what I am altogether and just be here in the moment.
Still, I have to admit that even as a child I was interested in Buddhism, and I was also interested in writing. This practice of writing and looking at your life, seeing who you are, is very much a Buddhist practice as well. It's a wonderful practice for stepping out of ourselves, for stepping back and freeing ourselves from rigid structures that say, "You must do it this way."
I think it's for each one of us to find our own way, to find our own expression, to find how we can best express ourselves. You don't have to follow in anybody's footsteps or imitate anyone else. Just realize your own voice, your own mind, and express that.
At first I felt that I couldn't think of myself as a writer until I had published a book. But when I published my first book, How the World Can Be the Way It Is, I still didn't feel like a writer, although I didn't know what a writer was supposed to feel like. I thought, "Well, probably I have to publish a second book, because to really be a writer you have to be able to do it again." Then I published a second book, and I still didn't feel like a writer. So I've given up on that. I would just say, whatever you are, just be that and express that totally and freely. It isn't for us to determine it ahead of time, or to try to force ourselves into some particular idea we might have.
Scott Edelstein (moderator): So then an artificial discipline superimposed from the outside can get in the way of genuine creativity and accomplishment. With that in mind, can each of you say a little bit about the proper role of discipline in your practice as writers and as Buddhists?
Goldberg: Well, I trick myself by using the words "pleasure" and "love" instead. I say to myself, "Follow what you love and it will take you where you need to go." Certainly you have to show up, but discipline is such a heavy word in our society. "You've got to do this." "But I don't want to do it." "Do it!" "No!" So I end up in a fight with myself. Meanwhile, there's another person inside me who just shuts up and goes over to the notebook, or just shuts up and gets up for meditation at five in the morning. It's almost as if I have no reason. I just do it while the other parts of me are fighting.
I avoid the word discipline, mostly because I'm a teacher and I know that there's such a barbed message in our society regarding discipline. Instead, I'm a great seducer; I seduce myself and other people into writing and into zazen.
Hagen: I think that's really it. We have the notion that discipline is kind of drab and dreary, but really it's just to go over to the notebook or get up for morning zazen. Just go ahead and do it-for no reason, as Natalie said. There's joy in that, real contentment-deep, heartfelt contentment and peace.
I remember many years ago, walking by a field and seeing a dog behaving very strangely. He would stand up, take a few steps, crouch, then move again, all in a very deliberate way. I soon realized this dog wasn't just acting on his own; he was following someone's directions. So I looked and off in the distance, at the far end of the field, I saw a man holding his hands in front of him, giving the dog subtle commands with his fingers and hands. The dog was absolutely focused on that man. The remarkable thing about it was that I could tell that this dog was absolutely full of joy and happiness. This dog knew what he was about, what he was doing.
I think this is what discipline can offer. If we think of discipline as some kind of drudgery, something that's imposed from the outside, we haven't found what discipline can offer us. We have to find something within ourselves that gets us to the notebook, gets us to the practice.
Whatever it is that you want to take up in life, just do that and do it completely, wholeheartedly. Even on those days when you don't feel like doing it, just go ahead and do it anyway. Ultimately what we cultivate is a very profound joy, peace and contentment, and a sense that we actually have some control in our lives, instead of things controlling us.
Goldberg: I like the word joy even better than pleasure. Pleasure has a lingering quality, whereas joy is instantaneous.
Edelstein: You both talked about how we have some real misconceptions about discipline. What other misconceptions would you say that people have about either writing or Buddhism?
Goldberg: A publisher recently asked me if I would do a book of daily meditations on writing. I told them that was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever heard. You don't meditate about writing, you write. There's this idea that meditation is like cogitation. But if you're going to meditate, don't do it to think about writing.
Hagen: When people take up the practice of Buddhism, or even the practice of writing, they're often looking outside, looking for something out there that's going to land on them and improve them in some way. I think we can just forget about all of that. Just look within and find something within yourself to express.
I was a writer before I was published. Once in a while I would think, "Boy, it would be nice to be published," but generally I realized I had to forget about that and turn my attention to what I was writing. I had something to say and I wanted to say it as clearly as I could, in the best way I could. There was great joy in doing that. To the extent that we look for something out there to fulfill us, we lose it. We have to find it within ourselves and let it be.
Goldberg: You also have to be patient and not grab too quickly for something. I finished my last book about a year ago. I'd been writing books for the previous twelve years non-stop, so I was very nervous. Now I haven't been working on a book for almost a year, and I keep saying to myself, "Nat, keep giving it space, give it space." At first I was frantic, and then the space was really nice. I'm happy. I've gotten to really enjoy doing nothing. Still, little shoots are coming up. Even when I don't want them.
I want to remind you of that: be patient. Make some space so something you really want to say has the space to come up.
Edelstein: Do you want to talk about those shoots that are coming up?
Goldberg: I did start one thing. Meditation retreats are very destructive for me. I'm talking about a seven-day retreat, where you sit in meditation from five a.m. until nine or ten at night. You alternate between sitting and walking and it's very formal and it kills you. There's nothing organic about it. You really come up against the wall. At some point during these retreats I get very creative. I don't want to, but tremendous creative energy is released, and suddenly out of nowhere things come up that I know I should write. I'm not looking for them; I don't want to write them.
I was doing a retreat this past March, and the beginning of something came up, and it wouldn't leave me alone. I finally said, "Listen, if you leave me alone now, I promise that when the retreat is over, I'll try writing it." About two weeks after the retreat ended, I said to myself, "Well, I promised; I better do it. Otherwise it will plague me at the next retreat." So I went to a café, and I sat and wrote for about an hour. I thought, "Oh, this was kind of fun," so I went back the next day and wrote, and then I just kept going. I kept adding on with no purpose, letting it happen. I would only write when I felt like it-about two or three times a week. I was very sweet to myself. There was no demand about it, nothing.
Two or three months later I was sitting in the same café and writing, and suddenly I was sobbing, just sobbing and sobbing as I was writing, and I thought, "Nat, where did you think this would lead? What did you think-you were just going to write happily ever after? You didn't think it was going to go deep and sometimes get painful?" So it was almost a trick. Often that's how I write. I feel like I smell something far off and I start over here, but I know I'm going over there.
Question from the audience: Natalie, in your early books you talk about the act of just writing, without worrying about what you'll do with what comes out. But in Thunder and Lightning you say, "Don't just write; do something with it." This turns up the heat and intensity. Should I have some sort of goal?
Goldberg: I've told my students that they should just do writing practice for at least two years. I'd like to tell them to do it for fifteen, but Americans won't listen to me. So I start out with two years of just writing and discovering your own mind and not worrying about it. But I felt I had a responsibility to help people take the next step-not just leave everybody with writing practice. What do you do after you've let out all your wild horses, after you've really met your own mind? What do you do with all the notebooks you fill? People kept asking me, so I had to answer.
Questioner: Do you think writing naturally tends to get to that place where you do something with it?
Goldberg: No, not everybody has to. But I wanted to say in print, "If you want to, this is the next step." You don't just do it when you feel like it and have fun. I wanted to take people further, and I also wanted to establish writing as a true Zen path. I think I lost my popularity with that book. I mean, it's been well received, but with Writing Down the Bones, everybody just wanted to write their asses off. Now I've given a little weight to the practice of writing. The book starts out with a warning that says most of my writing friends are unhappy. I also say that if you want to see your own face, if you want to drop off the old yellow coat of yourself, pick up the pen. I hope I'm enticing people, too, but it's a deep enticing.
Questioner: Earlier tonight you said something that intrigued me: that first you were writing as a Jewish girl from Brooklyn, but then your writing practice changed. Am I correct in that?
Goldberg: Yes, I was writing out of my life. I still write about my life, but it's turned inside out.
Questioner: I've read a lot of memoirs about writers' lives, but as a reader, I'm looking for something more. I'm looking for the writer to get outside of her life, to get into a larger space. Is that what you meant when you said you started writing with your life, but you don't do that so much anymore?
Goldberg: Yes, in some way. But memoir can open out into a larger space if the writer really connects with their life in a large way. I'm thinking back to what I said in Thunder and Lightning. You ask yourself, "What do I love deeply? What has brought me to my knees? What has totally broken me?" The combination of these answers can give you a voice.
Zen practice broke me. It broke my idea of the way the world was. It broke my whole Jewish, New York, American, female way of seeing things; it cracked me open. So for me it was a combination of really loving my life, and then being broken and really loving writing-but, having been broken, I saw it in a different way.
Questioner: Some people write from their own pain. But I'm not talking about that.
Goldberg: I'm talking about something different, too. I wasn't talking about my own pain. What broke me open enabled me to see the world in a bigger way-like Nana. Something extraordinary happened to her and it broke her, woke her up. I'm not advocating the Holocaust as your wake-up medicine, of course.
Questioner: Is discovering your mind in writing different from discovering your own mind in meditation?
Hagen: Well, how many minds do you think you have? Is a writing mind different from your mind, or from some other mind that you use for something else?
Questioner: How did I get into this spot? I think not; I think they're the same.
Goldberg: I came back to the Twin Cities because I suffered from the idea that my writing mind was different from the mind of the people who had received dharma transmission, an official endorsement to teach Zen, from my Zen teacher Katagiri Roshi. Or that the writing mind was different from the minds of Zen students who had become priests. But I dropped it all; I feel free of that now.
Hagen: We don't really have any mind at all. We think we have a mind; we think we have this thing called "my mind," that it's a particular mind. Then we lock ourselves into this structure of our own creation. It's a little prison we put ourselves in. But actually, we aren't anything in particular at all. Once we realize this, then we have complete freedom-whether we're exploring the mind through writing, or through just sitting there quietly, observing the thoughts as they come up. It's all the same; it's the same free-flowing mind that's taking place. It can be found and expressed in any activity.
Questioner: As an actor, I know that you have to develop a voice. In writing it's the same. But how do you go about doing that?
Goldberg: Forget about it. I only realized twenty years later, in a class I was teaching, that Zen is what gave me a voice. I finally was really communicating something and really had something to share. But for twenty years I'd never thought about it. I'd just shut up and write, just take on my life without thinking about it.
Questioner: When you take all of the things that you're talking about-finding your voice, finding your space, and getting comfortable with structure-how do you maintain all of it in the face of deadlines?
Goldberg: It's fabulous, because a deadline puts you up against the wall. That's how I do all my writing. If I don't have a deadline from someone else, I make a deadline. I'll tell a friend, "I'm going to have ten pages for you." "Well, Nat, I don't want ten pages." "I don't care, I'm bringing you ten pages." Otherwise I could sit forever and daydream about what I'm going to write. The only thing that made me a writer was the physical act of writing. When I finished Writing Down the Bones, I was so scared of not being a writer that I wrote another book, and then another one. So deadlines are good.
Hagen: I find them dreadful. I fold with deadlines, so I try to avoid setting them.
Goldberg: Yeah, but you show up for morning meditation. What time is zazen here, 5:30? For me, that's the same as a deadline. To be completely honest, I have no trouble with deadlines in writing, but in Zen I fight the early morning meditation times like crazy. I don't want to get up, I don't want to get up...
Hagen: I have no trouble with that anymore.
Questioner: Natalie, earlier you talked about finding yourself sobbing over your work. What do you do when you get to that heart place in your writing? Do you stay with it or do you let it dissipate? How do you go forward from there?
Goldberg: Sometimes I feel like I'm writing with my heart. It's aching as I write, but I'm just in there. I trust that more than if I'm writing from my head. You keep writing no matter what; you just accept it and you keep going.
Hagen: And there isn't anything you need to do with it or about it. Just go ahead and express yourself; forget about what you're going to get out of it, or what anybody else is going to get out of it. Don't try to deliberately make use of it. If you do that, it will drift up into the head and out of the heart.
Questioner: But when you're not writing in any specific order, simply doing writing as practice, at what point do you have a process or a trigger mechanism that pulls everything together? At what point do all the pieces seem to come together so that you say, "This is what I really want to say"? Do you even have a process, or does it just happen?
Hagen: My experience is that it just happens.
Goldberg: It happens if you're awake to it. What I do-what I used to do; I don't do it anymore-is when I'd finish a notebook, I'd sit down and I'd read the whole notebook. I'd go someplace where I don't usually hang out and I'd read it and underline things I liked. I studied my own mind: What are my obsessions? What do I keep bringing up? Who am I, anyway? Sometimes I'd find a whole poem and just type it up. Sometimes I'd find one good line. When I first lived here in Minnesota, it was a hard time for me. I was going through a divorce, but this line appeared: "I came to love my life." I kept trying to write a poem from it. I never got one, but I loved that line, and as I kept trying to create that poem, I got a lot of writing done. Things kind of evolve, but they evolve when I digest what I'm doing. What is it I used to say? "Composting it."
Besides Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg is the author of Thunder and Lightning, Banana Rose and Living Color: A Writer Paints Her World. She is assistant teacher at Clouds in Water Zen Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Steve Hagen is the author of Buddhism Plain and Simple and How the World Can Be Be the Way It Is. He is the dharma heir of Dainin Katagiri Roshi and head teacher at Dharma Field Zen Center in Minneapolis, where this symposium was held.
You Are, Enlightenment Is There
by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
Letters From Emptiness
Shikantaza1 is to practice or actualize emptiness. Although you can have a tentative understanding of it through your thinking, you should understand emptiness through your experience. You have an idea of emptiness and an idea of being, and you think that being and emptiness are opposites. But in Buddhism both of these are ideas of being. The emptiness we mean is not like the idea you may have. You cannot reach a full understanding of emptiness with your thinking mind or with your feeling. That is why we practice zazen.
We have a term, shosoku, which is about the feeling you have when you receive a letter from home. Even without an actual picture, you know something about your home, what people are doing there, or which flowers are blooming. That is shosoku. Although we have no actual written communications from the world of emptiness, we have some hints or suggestions about what is going on in that world-and that is, you might say, enlightenment. When you see a plum blossom, or hear the sound of a small stone hitting bamboo, that is a letter from the world of emptiness.
Besides the world which we can describe, there is another kind of world. All descriptions of reality are limited expressions of the world of emptiness. Yet we attach to the descriptions and think they are reality. That is a mistake because what is described is not the actual reality, and when you think it is reality, your own idea is involved. That is an idea of self.
Many Buddhists have made this mistake. That is why they were attached to written scriptures or Buddha's words. They thought that his words were the most valuable thing, and that the way to preserve the teaching was to remember what Buddha said. But what Buddha said was just a letter from the world of emptiness, just a suggestion or some help from him. If someone else reads it, it may not make sense. That is the nature of Buddha's words. To understand Buddha's words, we cannot rely on our usual thinking mind. If you want to read a letter from the Buddha's world, it is necessary to understand Buddha's world.
"To empty" water from a cup does not mean to drink it up. "To empty" means to have direct, pure experience without relying on the form or color of being. So our experience is "empty" of our preconceived ideas, our idea of being, our idea of big or small, round or square. Round or square, big or small don't belong to reality, but are simply ideas. That is to "empty" water. We have no idea of water even though we see it.
When we analyze our experience, we have ideas of time or space, big or small, heavy or light. A scale of some kind is necessary, and with various scales in our mind, we experience things. Still the thing itself has no scale. That is something we add to reality. Because we always use a scale and depend on it so much, we think the scale really exists. But it doesn't exist. If it did, it would exist with things. Using a scale you can analyze one reality into entities, big and small, but as soon as we conceptualize something it is already a dead experience.
We "empty" ideas of big or small, good or bad from our experience, because the measurement that we use is usually based on the self. When we say good or bad, the scale is yourself. That scale is not always the same. Each person has a scale that is different. So I don't say that the scale is always wrong, but we are liable to use our selfish scale when we analyze, or when we have an idea about something. That selfish part should be empty. How we empty that part is to practice zazen and become more accustomed to accepting things as it is without any idea of big or small, good or bad.
For artists or writers to express their direct experience, they may paint or write. But if their experience is very strong and pure, they may give up trying to describe it: "Oh my." That is all. I like making a miniature garden around my house, but if I go to the stream and see the wonderful rocks and water running, I give up: "Oh, no, I shall never try to make a rock garden. It is much better to clean up Tassajara Creek, picking up any paper or fallen branches."
In nature itself there is
beauty that is beyond beauty. When you see a part of it, you may think this rock
should be moved one way, and that rock should be moved another way, and then it
will be a complete garden. Because you limit the actual reality using the scale
of your small self, there is either a good garden or a bad garden, and you want
to change some stones. But if you see the thing itself as it is with a wider mind,
there is no need to do anything.
The thing itself is emptiness, but because you add something to it, you spoil the actual reality. So if we don't spoil things, that is to empty things. When you sit in shikantaza, don't be disturbed by sounds, don't operate your thinking mind. This means not to rely on any sense organ or the thinking mind and just receive the letter from the world of emptiness. That is shikantaza.
To empty is not the same as to deny. Usually when we deny something, we want to replace it with something else. When I deny the blue cup, it means I want the white cup. When you argue and deny someone else's opinion, you are forcing your own opinion on another. That is what we usually do. But our way is not like that. By emptying the added element of our self-centered ideas, we purify our observation of things. When we see and accept things as they are, we have no need to replace one thing with another. That is what we mean by "to empty" things.
If we empty things, letting them be as it is, then things will work. Originally things are related and things are one, and as one being it will extend itself. To let it extend itself, we empty things. When we have this kind of attitude, then without any idea of religion we have religion. When this attitude is missing in our religious practice, it will naturally become like opium. To purify our experience and to observe things as it is is to understand the world of emptiness and to understand why Buddha left so many teachings.
In our practice of shikantaza we do not seek for anything, because when we seek for something, an idea of self is involved. Then we try to achieve something to further the idea of self. That is what you are doing when you make some effort, but our effort is to get rid of self-centered activity. That is how we purify our experience.
For instance, if you are reading, your wife or husband may say, "Would you like to have a cup of tea?" "Oh, I am busy," you may say, "don't bother me." When you are reading in that way, I think you should be careful. You should be ready to say, "Yes, that would be wonderful, please bring me a cup of tea." Then you stop reading and have a cup of tea. After having a cup of tea, you continue your reading.
Otherwise your attitude is, "I am very busy right now!" That is not so good, because then your mind is not actually in full function. A part of your mind is working hard, but the other part may not be working so hard. You may be losing your balance in your activity. If it is reading, it may be okay, but if you are making calligraphy and your mind is not in a state of emptiness, your work will tell you, "I am not in a state of emptiness." So you should stop.
If you are a Zen student you should be ashamed of making such calligraphy. To make calligraphy is to practice zazen. So when you are working on calligraphy, if someone says, "Please have a cup of tea," and you answer, "No, I am making calligraphy!" then your calligraphy will say, "No, no!" You cannot fool yourself.
I want you to understand what we are doing here at Zen Center. Sometimes it may be all right to practice zazen as a kind of exercise or training, to make your practice stronger or to make your breathing smooth and natural. That is perhaps included in practice, but when we say shikantaza, that is not what we mean. When we receive a letter from the world of emptiness, then the practice of shikantaza is working.
Thank you very much.
Wherever You Are, Enlightenment Is There
In our practice the most important thing is to realize that we have buddhanature. Intellectually we may know this, but it is rather difficult to accept. Our everyday life is in the realm of good and bad, the realm of duality, while buddhanature is found in the realm of the absolute where there is no good and no bad. There is a twofold reality. Our practice is to go beyond the realm of good and bad and to realize the absolute. It may be rather difficult to understand.
Hashimoto Roshi, a famous Zen master who passed away in 1965, said that the way we [Japanese] cook is to prepare each ingredient separately. Rice is here and pickles are over there. But when you put them in your tummy, you don't know which is which. The soup, rice, pickles, and everything get all mixed up. That is the world of the absolute. As long as rice, pickles and soup remain separate, they are not working. You are not being nourished. That is like your intellectual understanding or book knowledge-it remains separate from your actual life.
Zazen practice is mixing the various ways we have of understanding and letting it all work together. A kerosene lamp will not work merely because it is filled with kerosene. It also needs air for combustion, and even with air, it needs matches. By the aid of matches, air, and kerosene, the lamp will work. This is our zazen practice.
In the same way, even though you say, "I have buddhanature," that alone is not enough to make it work. If you do not have a friend or a sangha, it won't work. When we practice with the aid of the sangha, helped by Buddha, we can practice zazen in its true sense. We will have bright light here in the Tassajara zendo or in our daily life.
To have a so-called enlightenment experience is of course important, but what is more important is to know how to adjust the flame in zazen and in our everyday life. When the flame is in complete combustion, you don't smell the oil. When it is smoky, you will smell something. You may realize that it is a kerosene lamp. When your life is in complete combustion you have no complaint, and there is no need to be aware of your practice. If we talk too much about zazen, it is already a smoky kerosene lamp.
Maybe I am a very smoky kerosene lamp. I don't necessarily want to give a lecture. I just want to live with you: moving stones, having a nice hot spring bath, and eating something good. Zen is right there. When I start to talk, it is already a smoky kerosene lamp. As long as I must give a lecture I have to explain: "This is right practice, this is wrong, this is how to practice zazen " It is like giving you a recipe. It doesn't work. You cannot eat a recipe.
Usually a Zen master will say: "Practice zazen, then you will attain enlightenment. If you attain enlightenment you will be detached from everything, and you will see things as it is." Of course this is true, but our way is not always so. We are studying how to adjust the flame of our lamp back and forth. Dogen Zenji makes this point in the Shobogenzo. His teaching is to live each moment in complete combustion like a lamp or a candle. To live each moment, becoming one with everything, is the point of his teaching and his practice.
Zazen practice is a very subtle thing. When you practice zazen, you become aware of things you did not notice while you were working. Today I moved stones for a while, and I didn't realize that my muscles were tired. But when I was calmly sitting zazen, I realized, "Oh! My muscles are in pretty bad condition." I felt some pain in the various parts of my body. You might think you could practice zazen much better if you had no problem, but actually some problem is necessary. It doesn't have to be a big one. Through the difficulty you have you can practice zazen. This is an especially meaningful point, which is why Dogen Zenji says, "Practice and enlightenment are one." Practice is something you do consciously, something you do with effort. There! Right there is enlightenment.
Many Zen masters missed this point, while they were striving to attain perfect zazen: things that exist are imperfect. That is how everything actually exists in this world. Nothing we see or hear is perfect. But right there in the imperfection is perfect reality. It is true intellectually and also in the realm of practice. It is true on paper and true with our body.
You think that you can only establish true practice after you attain enlightenment, but it is not so. True practice is established in delusion, in frustration. If you make some mistake, that is where to establish your practice. There is no other place for you to establish your practice.
We talk about enlightenment, but in its true sense perfect enlightenment is beyond our understanding, beyond our experience. Even in our imperfect practice enlightenment is there. We just don't know it. So the point is to find the true meaning of practice before we attain enlightenment. Wherever you are, enlightenment is there. If you stand up right where you are, that is enlightenment.
This is called I-don't-know zazen. We don't know what zazen is anymore. I don't know who I am. To find complete composure when you don't know who you are or where you are, that is to accept things as it is. Even though you don't know who you are, you accept yourself. That is "you" in its true sense. When you know who you are, that "you" will not be the real you. You may overestimate yourself quite easily, but when you say, "Oh, I don't know," then you are you, and you know yourself completely. That is enlightenment.
I think our teaching is very, very good, but if we
become arrogant and believe in ourselves too much we will be lost. There will
be no teaching, no Buddhism at all. When we find the joy of our life in our composure,
we don't know what it is, we don't understand anything, then our mind is very
great, very wide. Our mind is open to everything, so it is big enough to know
before we know something. We are grateful even before we have something. Even
before we attain enlightenment, we are happy to practice our way. Otherwise we
cannot attain anything in its true sense.
Thank you very much.
Shunryu Suzuki Roshi (1904-1971) was founder of the San Francisco Zen Center and a pivotal figure in the transmission of Buddhism to the West. His teachings have been published in the classic Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind and in Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness: Zen Talks on the Sandokai. These two talks are from Not Always So, an outstanding new collection of Suzuki Roshi's teachings edited by Edward Brown and published by HarperCollins. © 2003 by Shunryu Suzuki. All rights reserved.
1 "Shikantaza is commonly translated as 'just sitting'; it could also be described as 'not suppressing and not indulging thinking.' But Suzuki had various ways to express it: 'Live in each instant of time,' or 'Exhale completely,' or 'Shikantaza is just to be ourselves.' It is one of those expressions that can be endlessly explained and not explained at all, and certainly if you ever stop to wonder if "this" is shikantaza, it probably isn't."-Ed Brown, from the introduction to Not Always So.
When the Candle Is Blown Out
In this adaptation from her new book, The Great Failure: A Bartender, A Monk, and My Unlikely Path to Truth, Natalie Goldberg offers a remembrance of her teacher and a cri de coeur over all that is left incomplete and unanswered by his death. Where is enlightenment when the candle is blown out?
Te-shan asked the old tea-cake woman, "Who is your teacher? Where did you learn this?"
She pointed to a monastery a half mile away.
Te-shan visited Lung-t'an and questioned him far into the night. Finally when it was very late, Lung-t'an said, "Why don't you go and rest now?"
Te-shan thanked him and opened the door. "It's dark outside. I can't see."
Lung-t'an lit a candle for him, but just as Te-shan turned and reached out to take it, Lung-t'an blew it out.
At that moment Te-shan had a great enlightenment. Full of gratitude, he bowed deeply to Lung-t'an.
The next day Lung-t'an praised Te-shan to the assembly of monks. Te-shan brought his books and commentaries in front of the building and lit them on fire, saying, "These notes are nothing, like placing a hair in vast space."
Then bowing again to his teacher, he left.
On a Thursday night I flew into Minneapolis and saw Katagiri Roshi's body laid out in the zendo, dead eighteen hours from a cancer he fought for over a year. It was incomprehensible that I would never see my beloved teacher again.
My father was the only one I knew who had sneered at death's bleak face as he fought in the righteous war that marked his life. Of everyone I knew, he alone did not seem afraid of the great darkness. "Nat, you're here and then you're not. Don't worry about it. It's not a big deal," he told me as he placed a pile of army photos on my lap. "The Japanese, you have to give it to 'em. They could really fight. Tough, good soldiers." Then he held up a black-and-white. "Here's your handsome daddy overseas."
Roshi also fought as a young man in World War II. He told a story about not wanting to kill and shooting in the air above enemy heads. I told that to my father. "What a lot of malarkey," my father sneered. "You don't believe that, do you? You're in battle, you fight."
My father met my teacher only once, about a year after I had married. We had just bought the lower half of a duplex on a leafy tree-lined one-way street six blocks from Zen Center in Minneapolis. I was in my early thirties, and my parents drove out for a week in July. They were still young, in their early sixties.
In the middle of one afternoon when no one was around, we slipped off our shoes and stepped onto the high-shined wooden floor of the zendo. My parents peered at bare white walls, black cushions and a simple wooden altar with a statue and some flowers.
I heard the door in the hall open. "I bet that's Roshi."
My father's eyes grew wide. His face swung to the large screened window, and for a moment I thought he was going to crash through in a grand escape. Pearls of sweat formed on his upper lip.
Roshi turned the corner. They stood across the room from each other. The meeting was brief. They never shook hands. My father was subdued, withdrawn, and Roshi too wasn't his usual animated self.
I remember thinking, my father has become shy in front of a Zen master-finally someone tamed him.
I got it all wrong. He didn't give a shit about that. He had just encountered the enemy face to face. After Roshi exited, he hissed, "I fought them, and now you're studying with them."
"If this were your last moment on earth," Roshi cut the silence with these words late one night, "how would you sit?" We were waiting for the bell to ring. It was the end of a weeklong retreat. Our knees and backs ached. The candle flame hissed; the smell of incense from Eiheiji monastery (the Japanese training center for Soto Zen), shipped in cartons to Minnesota, soaked our clothes.
"You've got to be kidding. Just ring the damn bell," was the only thought that raced through my head.
On other occasions when he asked similar questions, my mind froze. Me, die? Not possible.
Death was something aesthetic, artistic; it had to do with the grand words "forever," "eternity," "emptiness." I never had known anyone who had died before. It was merely a practice point: everything is impermanent. Sure, sure. But really it was inconceivable that my body would not be my body. I was lean, young, and everything worked. I had a name, an identity: Natalie Goldberg.
What a shock it was for
me to see my great teacher's stiff body. This was for real? The man I had studied
with for twelve years was gone? Stars, moon, hope stopped. Ocean waves and ants
froze. Even rocks would not grow. This truth I could not bear.
I was guided by three great teachings I received from him:
Continue under All
Don't Be Tossed Away-Don't Let Anything Stop You.
Make Positive Effort for the Good.
The last one Roshi told me when I was divorcing and couldn't get out of bed.
"If nothing else, get up and brush your teeth." He paused. "I can never get up when the alarm goes off. Nevertheless," he nodded, "I get up."
Once in the early days I was perplexed about trees. I asked at the end of a lecture, "Roshi, do the elms suffer?"
"What? Could you tell me again? Do they really suffer?" I couldn't take it in.
He shot back his reply.
It pinged off my forehead and did not penetrate. I was caught in thinking mind, too busy trying to understand everything.
But my confusion had drive. I raised my hand a third time. "Roshi, just once more. I don't get it. I mean do trees really suffer."
He looked straight at me. "Shut up."
That went in.
The amazing thing was I did not take it personally. He was directly commanding my monkey mind to stop. I'd already been studying with him for a while. Those two words were a relief. Dead end. Quit. I rested back into my sitting position and felt my breath go in and out at my nose. The thought about trees that evening stopped grabbing me by the throat.
With him extraneous things were cut away. My life force stepped forward. After a sleepy childhood I was seen and understood. Glory! Glory! I had found a great teacher in the deep north of this country. Maybe that had been the purpose of my short marriage: to bring me here. Both Roshi and I did not belong in Minnesota, yet we had found each other.
I positioned Roshi in the deep gash I had in my heart. He took the place of loneliness and desolation, and with him as a bolster I felt whole. But the deal was he had to stay alive, continue existing, for this configuration to work.
The third year after his death was the worst in my life. Our process had been cut short. In a healthy teacher-student relationship, the teacher calls out of the student a large vision of what is possible. I finally dared to feel the great true dream I had inside. I projected it onto this person who was my teacher. This projection was part of spiritual development. It allowed me to discover the largeness of my own psyche, but it wasn't based on some illusion. Roshi possessed many of these projected qualities, but each student was individual. When I asked other practitioners what impressed them about Katagiri Roshi, the reported qualities were different for each person. One woman in Santa Cruz admired his unerring self-confidence. She stood up and imitated his physical stance. She said that even when no one understood his English and we weren't sure of the Buddhist concepts he discussed, he bowed in front of the altar and walked out after his lecture as though all time and the universe were backing him.
I'd never even taken note of that. What I loved was his enthusiasm, his ability to be in the moment and not judge and categorize me. He had a great sense of humor. I admired his dedication to practice and to all beings and his willingness to tell me the truth, with no effort to sweeten it.
Eventually, as the teacher-student relationship matures, the student manifests these qualities herself and learns to stand on her own two feet. The projections are reclaimed. What we saw in him is also inside us. We close the gap between who we think the teacher is and who we think we are not. We become whole.
Roshi died before this process was finished. I felt like a green fruit. I still needed the sun, the rain, the nutrients of the tree. Instead, the great oak withered; I dangled for a while and then fell to the ground, very undernourished.
How many of us get to live out the full maturation process? Our modern lives are built on speed. We move fast, never settle. Most of us grab what we can, a little from here, then there. For twelve years I had one source. I should have been satisfied. He gave me everything. I knew that when I saw his dead body, but how to live it inside myself?
This projection process also can get more complicated if we haven't individuated from our original parents. Then we present to the teacher those undeveloped parts too. Here the teacher needs to be savvy, alert and committed in order to avoid taking advantage of vulnerable students. I have read about Zen ancestors who practiced with their teachers for forty years in a single monastery, and I understand why. There would be no half-baked characters in those ancient lineages.
But, oddly enough, Te-shan only had that one meeting with Lung-t'an, and he woke up. Of course, he was a serious scholar of the dharma for a long time. Who is to say scholarly pursuits-studying books intently and writing commentary-don't prepare the mind as well as sweeping bamboo-lined walkways, sitting long hours, or preparing monastery meals?
Zen training is physical. But what isn't physical while we have a body on this earth? Sitting bent over books, our eyes following a line of print, is physical too. So that when Te-shan had that single evening in Lung-t'an's room, he was already very ripe. Lung-t'an merely had to push him off the tree, and Te-shan was prepared to fall into the tremendous empty dark with no clinging.
Te-shan was shown true darkness when Lung-t'an blew out the light; he held at last a dharma candle to guide his way, but he still had a lot of maturation ahead of him. Don't forget the next morning he made that grandiose gesture of burning his books in front of the assembly of monks. He was still acting out, choosing this and leaving that. He was not yet able to honor his whole journey, to respect everything that brought him to this moment. Te-shan still envisioned things in dualistic terms: now only direct insight mattered; books needed to be destroyed. He didn't see that all those years of study had created a foundation that supported his awakening with Lung-t'an. Originally he traveled from the north with his sutras on his back to enlighten the southern barbarians. Here he was doing a complete reversal, torching his past and revering his present experience. Someday he would embrace the north and the south, unify all of China in his heart, and attain a peaceful mind. But he was not there yet. We see him engaged in drama, presenting a flaming pageant in front of the other monks.
His life has not yet settled and become calm.
After he left Lung-t'an, he wandered for a long time, looking to be tested and sharpened. He already had left his place in northern China to wander among what he thought were the southern barbarians. He might be the precursor to our fractured American way of searching for peace.
How can anyone survive if the way is so splintered? What we learn is it's all whole, been whole all along. It is our perception that is broken and that creates a shattered world. But each of us has to discover this in our own lives. That is what is so hard.
"I wish you'd gotten to meet him," I'd tell writing students.
"We are," they'd say, meaning they did through knowing me.
I scoffed. "You don't know what you're talking about."
At a party in San Francisco, Ed Brown, a longtime Zen practitioner and author of many books, pulled me over. "Nat, I have another story about Katagiri for you to steal."
I laughed. I'd asked his permission and acknowledged him with the last one I used. I put my arm around him. "Sure, Ed, give it to me. I'd love to steal from you again."
He began, "I'd been practicing for twenty years when the thought suddenly came to me, 'Ed, maybe you can just hear what your heart is saying. You can be quiet and pay attention to yourself.' It was a big moment of relief for me. Tears filled my eyes."
He showed me with his fingers how they fell down his cheeks. "I'd tried so hard all my life. Made such effort, lived in a monastery since I was young. And now this. Could it be that simple?
"The next day I had an interview with Katagiri. I asked him, 'Do you think it's okay to just listen to yourself?'
"He looked down, then he looked up. 'Ed, I tried very hard to practice Dogen's Zen. After twenty years I realized there was no Dogen's Zen.'"
Dogen was a strict patriarch from thirteenth-century Japan. We chanted his words each morning. He was a yardstick by which we measured ourselves.
I felt my legs buckle. I reached out for the back of a chair. Just us. No heaven Zen in some Asian sky out there.
I put my hand on Ed's shoulder. "Ed, I vow to once again misappropriate your story." He nodded, satisfied.
I was reminded again how simple, sincere, earnest Roshi was. I was happy, and then it ignited my anger. I was mad he died. I had found the perfect teacher.
I tried practicing other places. I did two fall practice periods at Green Gulch, part of the San Francisco Zen Center. While I was there, an old student told me about the early years at the Zen monastery in Carmel Valley.
Tassajara was in a narrow valley. The sun didn't reach it until late morning, rising over an eastern mountain, and it dropped early behind the slope of a western one. The practice was difficult, and the days and nights were frigid and damp. But American students of the late sixties were fervent about this path to liberate their lives. One particular winter retreat, that lasted for a hundred days, was being led by Katagiri, fresh from Japan.
One young zealous woman, a fierce practitioner, a bit Zen-crazed, was having a hard time. She was full of resistance when the four o'clock wake-up bell rang on the fifth day of Rohatsu sesshin, an intense week that honored Buddha's enlightenment and signaled almost the finish of the long retreat. Practice that day would again be from four-thirty in the morning until ten at night with few breaks except for short walking meditations and an hour work period after lunch. It was her turn that morning to carry the kyosaku, that long narrow board administered in the zendo to sleepy students' shoulders. Her hands were frayed and her bare feet were ice on the cold wooden floor when she got there. She picked up the wake-up stick and passed quietly by the altar to do the ritual bow to Katagiri, the head teacher, who was facing into the room. The flame on the candle was strong. The incense wafted through the air. The practitioners were settled onto their cushions, facing out toward the wall.
A thought inflamed her just as she was about to bow in front of Katagiri: it's easy for him. He's Asian. He's been doing this all his life. It's second nature. His body just folds into position.
Though it is a rule of retreat that people do not look at each other, in order to limit social interaction and provide psychic space for going deeply within, at this moment she glanced up at Roshi. She was stunned to see pearls of sweat forming on his upper lip. Only one reason he could have been perspiring in this frozen zendo: great effort. It wasn't any easier for him than anyone else. Was she ever wrong in her assumptions. She had gotten close enough to see what no one was supposed to see. All her rage and stereotyping crumbled.
My heart jumped. I imagined the small hard dark hairs above his lip-he did not shave for the whole week during sesshins. I recalled the shadow building on his cheeks and shaved head as the days went on, how he bowed with his hands pressed together in front of him, elbows out and shoulders erect. His small beautiful foot as he placed a step on the floor during walking meditation. Though retreats were austere, singular, solitary, there was also a rare intimacy that was shared in silence and practice together.
Just two weeks before the end of my second Green Gulch retreat, in December 1995, almost six years after Katagiri Roshi had died, in a stunning moment in the zendo that shot through me like a hot steel bolt, I realized this regimented practice no longer fit me. The known world blanked out, and I was lost in the moving weight of a waterfall. For me, the structure was Katagiri Roshi. I learned it all from him. If I stepped out of it, I'd lose my great teacher. I knew how to wake at four o'clock in the morning, to sit still for forty-minute periods, to eat with three bowls in concentration, but it was over-other parts of me needed care. Structure had saved my life, given me a foundation, and now it was cracking. It was a big opening, but I wasn't up to it.
Roshi was the youngest of six children. His mother barely had time for him. He'd spoken fondly of the single hour that he once had with her when she took him shopping. No other brothers and sisters. Just the heaven of his mother all to himself.
My mother was mostly absent in my life, not because she was busy, but because she was vacant. She woke in the morning, put on her girdle, straight wool skirt, and cashmere sweater, and then sat in a chair in her bedroom, staring out the window.
"Mom, I'm sick and want to stay home from school."
The next day I wrote the absentee note for the teacher, and she signed without glancing at it. I was hungrier than I knew. I wanted someone to contact me, even if it was to simply say, "Natalie, you are not sick. That wouldn't be honest. As a matter of fact, you look lovely today." As a kid I needed a reflection of my existence, that I was, indeed, here on this earth. The attention I received from my father was invasive and uncomfortable. I hoped at least for my mother's affirmation, but there wasn't any.
Roshi was the one person who directly spoke to this hunger. When I went in for dokusan (an individual face-to-face interview with the teacher), we sat cross-legged on cushions, opposite each other. He wasn't distracted, "aggravated" or impatient. He was right there, which inspired me to meet him in that moment. I had friends, acquaintances I interacted with, and we sat facing each other across luncheon tables, but this was a man whose life's work was to arrive in the present. The effect was stunning. Life seemed to beam out of every cell in his body. His facial expressions were animated.
I could ask him a question, and he would respond from no stuck, formulated place. I think it was the constant awareness of emptiness: that although this cushion, this floor, this person in front of you, and you yourself are here, it isn't of permanent duration. Knowing this in his bones and muscles, not just as a philosophical idea, allowed him a spontaneity and honesty.
"Roshi, now that I am divorced, it is very lonely."
"Tell me. What do you do when you are alone in the house?"
I'd never thought of that. I became interested. "Well, I water the plants," I faltered, then continued, "I wash a few dishes, call a friend." The momentum built. "I sit on the couch for hours and stare at the bare branches out the window. I play over and over Paul Simon's new album about New Mexico-I miss it there."
His attention encouraged me. "Lately, I've been sitting at my dining-room table and painting little pictures." I looked at him. Suddenly my solitary life had a texture.
"Is there anything wrong with loneliness?" he asked in a low voice.
I shook my head. All at once I saw it was a natural condition of life, like sadness, grief, even joy. When I was sitting with him, it didn't feel ominous or unbearable.
"Anyone who wants to go to the source is lonely. There are many people at Zen Center. Those who are practicing deeply are only with themselves."
"Are you lonely?" I entreated.
"Yes," he nodded. "But I don't let it toss me away. It's just loneliness."
"Do you ever get over it?"
"I take an ice-cold shower every morning. I never get used to it. It shocks me each time, but I've learned to stand up in it." He pointed at me. "Can you stand up in loneliness?"
He continued, "Being alone is the terminal abode. You can't go any deeper in your practice if you run from it."
He spoke to me evenly, honestly. My hunger was satiated-the ignored little girl still inside me and the adult seeker-both were nourished.
I understood that Roshi too had been neglected in his childhood.
Even though he had tremendous perseverance, he was human, with needs and desires. All of us want something-even the vastly wise like a good cookie with their tea and delight in good-quality tea. Maybe it was that very perseverance that broke him. He couldn't keep it up, and his human needs leaked out. "Continue under all circumstances," he barked out, so often that that dictum penetrated even my lazy mind and became a strong tool for my life. But as I grew older I understood its drawbacks: if you are crossing a street and a semi is coming, step aside. If you have hemorrhoids, don't push the sitting; take a hot bath. That one tactic-perseverance-can put you on a dead-end road, and then what do you do? Continue to march deep into a blind alley?
Touching Roshi's frailty finally brought him closer to me, unraveled my solid grief. At the end of January I had a painful backache that lasted all day. At midnight in my flannel pajamas I got up out of bed, went to the window, and looked out at the star-studded clear, cold night sky with Taos Mountain in the distance.
"Where are you? Come back!" I demanded. "We have things to settle."
I let out a scream that cracked the dark, but one raw fact did not change: nothing made him return, and I was left to make sense of his life-and mine. ©
from The Great Failure: A Bartender, A Monk, and My Unlikely Path to Truth by
Natalie Goldberg. © 2004 by Natalie Goldberg. Available in September from
HarperCollins Publishers Inc.
When the Candle is Blown Out by Natalie Goldberg, Shambhala Sun, September 2004.
Wondrous Functions of the Mind: A Letter to Zheng Fang Lian
By Chan Master Zhongfeng Mingben translated by Ocean Cloud
Zhongfeng Mingben (1262-1323) was an eminent Chan master of the Linji lineage in the Yuan dynasty. He was one of the very few to receive transmission from his teacher, Chan Master Gaofeng Yuanmiao (1239-1295), the protagonist of the famous gongan, "Do you have mastery of yourself when you are in a dreamless sleep?"
Ocean Cloud is a group of practitioners, students of Chan Master Sheng Yen, who endeavor to bring the classics of Chinese Buddhism to the English-speaking community in the spirit of dana-paramita. They are: Chang Wen (David Kabacinsky) from New York, Guo Shan (Jeff Larko) from Ohio, and Guo Jue (Wei Tan) from Maryland.
The invisible bug is able to rest on everything but not on fire. The mind of sentient beings can relate to everything (as an object of cognition) but not to prajna. But what really is the mind of sentient beings and what really is the essence of prajna? Why this talk about the ability and inability to relate to phenomena? Well, let me explain: "Reined with golden bridle, the horse whinnies on the fragrant grass; in the jade pavilion, the lady is enraptured by the spring blossoming of Apricot flowers" -- this is the mind of sentient beings. "In the jade pavilion, the lady is enraptured by the spring blossoming of Apricot flowers; reined with golden bridle, the horse whinnies on the fragrant grass" -- this is the essence of prajna. "On fragrant grass whinnies the golden bridled horse; the spring blossoming of Apricot flowers enraptures the lady in the jade pavilion" -- this is the ability and inability to relate to phenomena. If you get this directly without any hesitation, you would have seen [true reality].
Apart from the mind of sentient beings, there is no prajna essence; when the waves subside, the water returns to its original state. Apart from prajna essence, there is no mind of sentient beings; when there is water, waves will naturally arise. When emotive conceptualization of what is saintly and what is worldly is ended, and when the view of subject and object subsides, the worlds of the ten directions become one great field of complete enlightenment. All sentient beings have originally attained Buddhahood. At this place, you would not be able to find the tiniest bit of thing to be the mind of sentient beings; and you would not be able to find the tiniest bit of thing that is prajna essence, let alone finding the tiniest bit of thing to support the theory of being able or not able to relate to phenomena. This is what we call the True Suchness Dharma gate of one taste and universality. Because of it, the Buddhas of the past, present, and future are able to set the wheel of Dharma in motion; with it, the ancestral masters of the past were able to open the true eyes [of Dharma]; relying on it, the firmament shelters the world; based on it, the earth holds up everything. The saints utilize it to bring order and peace to all places; a noble person accords with it to fulfill the virtue of benevolence and enact policies to administer the land.
It is just that the multitude uses it everyday without knowing it. Having their back turned against it, they get more and more alienated from it. Due to this estrangement, worldly characteristics arise through prajna essence; from these worldly characteristics, the mind of sentient beings is generated; following this mind of sentient beings, different karmic actions are performed. As a result, one wanders around from place to place, leading to endless cyclic existence.
What we call prajna essence is none other than the potent and wondrous awareness from which the six sense functions flow forth. It is like a room that encompasses empty space, having six doors open on the sides, without obstructing each other. What we call the mind of sentient beings is none other than that which habitually follows the six sense objects of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and thought. It constantly grabs and rejects things it encounters, generating feelings of liking and aversion, grasping and attaching [to things] thought after thought, without interruption.
Prajna essence is analogous to water and the mind of sentient beings to waves. When the ocean of mind is perturbed by the wind of conditions it encounters, waves arise from the water. Apart from the water, the waves have no concrete substance. For one whose great wisdom has shone through in great brightness and openness, he or she would be able to see the unmoving water amidst the thousand convoluted waves, with nothing amiss in both movement and non-movement. If you have not attained this, you are only relying on words that resemble [true wisdom], being profoundly blind to the wisdom essence of wondrous awareness.
[What we call] mind and consciousness are but two names of the same thing. The enlightened ones penetrate consciousness and return to mind; the confused ones turn mind into consciousness. So what is mind? It is just a name given to the wondrous awareness which functions without any confusion. And what is consciousness? It is a name given to the illusory arising of discrimination from the functioning of wondrous awareness. These days, practitioners who discourse in abstruse eloquence mostly hold on to the entity of consciousness, without realizing the mind essence of wondrous awareness.
In reality, what we call wondrous awareness is not itself an object to be known. This is why the ancients said that a mirror does not reflect itself and a fire does not burn itself. If a mirror reflects itself, it would not be able to mirror other objects; if a fire burns itself, it would not be able to burn other objects. The mind essence is the same. If what we call wondrous awareness knows itself as an entity of awareness, it will not be able to know everything else. If one comes to know it as an object of awareness, what is known must actually be the entity of consciousness, not mind essence. Consciousness is the very object of the changeability of birth and death. If one holds on to it, how can one transcend birth and death?
The very essence of mind cannot be seen, heard, known, sensed, nor can it be grabbed or rejected. Whatever that can be generated is illusory, unreal, and inverted. If it is not something to be seen, heard, known, or sensed, how can a practitioner attain it as a transcendental realization? Well, all one should do is to depart from everything that can be seen, heard, known, or sensed, to the point that the one who departs and that which is being departed from (object) are brought into emptiness and quiescence. The mind essence will then simply manifest amidst that which can be seen, heard, known or sensed. When the ancients silently came into accordance and vividly realized this, the non-obstruction of all phenomena and conditions followed naturally.
However, if one desires to depart from the illness of the seen, heard, known, and sensed, this desire itself will in actuality enhance the illness. This is why the ancients came up with a skillful mean of practice. They put forth a meaningless huatou, instructing practitioners to investigate it thoroughly. If one [throws all one's attention] into the investigation of the huatou, one would naturally depart from the seen, heard, known, sensed, etc., without having to do so with any contrivance. In the various records of the transmission of lamps, we know that the ancestral masters did not generate doubt sensations through the use of huatou. Rather, they spontaneously realized non-arising through some spoken words. This is because they were truly and genuinely determined to resolve the great affair of birth and death. Even before they entered the gate of chan practice, the thought of impermanence and the gravity of the affair of birth and death had already been palpitating. This thought stuck in their minds and they were unable to bring about a resolution of it. As a result, they traveled and wandered around, going thousands of miles, entering into remote places enshrouded completely by wild grasses, with the wind as their only companion, [seeking for a resolution]. They went forth single-mindedly and diligently, with no other purpose than to thoroughly enlighten to "who they are". If they could not realize the resolution after practicing for decades, their doubt sensation of birth and death would grow stronger with time, not for one moment would they let go of this intention. If one can practice with such power of wisdom, there will be no need to worry that the light will not shine through.
Alas! Nowadays human minds are shallow and restless. Many people claim themselves to be practicing chan. The fact is, most only desire to be learned in the forms of practice and use them as material for gossip. Since they do not set their minds on resolving the great affair of birth and death, the more they talk, the more they are entrapped in their conceptions, entwined ever more deeply by the vines, leading to the reinforcement of birth and death. How unfortunate!
If you want to emulate the Buddhas and the ancestral masters, you must generate the proper aspiration of resolving the great affair of birth and death. Hang it on your eyelashes! So that even if you are enmeshed in myriad happenings and you are bombarded by myriad activities of the mind, you do not give rise to even one deviating intention, generating thoughts of discrimination, thus obstructing your aspiration. If this aspiration to resolve [the great affair] of birth and death is not genuine and sincere, it is certain that you will not be able to truly practice in daily living. And if you were to force yourself, it will only be a fleeting effort, not long lasting. Even if you are so intelligent and sharp that you can gain some understanding from the words of the ancients, that will only increase your knowledge, having no benefit whatsoever as far as the affair of birth and death is concerned. This is due to the lack of a genuine aspiration.
There are three essential requisites on the Path of practice: The first is to set your mind sincerely on the affair of birth and death; the second is to see through the illusoriness and fleetingness of worldly concerns such as honor and humiliation, gain and loss; the third is the determination to persevere along the path, never to regress. If one of these requisites is missing, your practice will be crippled; if two of them are missing, you will be lost; and if all three are missing, even if you were to commit the whole Tripitaka to memory and to deeply immerse yourself in cartloads of books, it will only feed into the karmic stream of your consciousness, engendering your pride and arrogance, having no benefit whatsoever to your [affair of birth and death].
In the past, a monk asked Master Zhao Zhou, "Does a dog have Buddha nature?" Zhao Zhou answered, "Wu!" This single word "wu" is like the great sword of heaven and the poison smeared drum. Those who come into contact with it will die instantly and those who engage with it will have their spirits shocked into oblivion. Even the Buddhas and the ancestral masters do not dare to look at it straight on. Since the time it was proffered, many people have been intrigued by it, and as a result many attained realization through it. However, there were also a large number who got it wrong. If you want to thoroughly enlighten to the great intention of the Buddhas and the ancestral masters, and to completely penetrate your true mind, why don't you place this word "wu" among the writing tablets and the desks? Whether you are speaking or silent, on the move or at rest, hang the huatou in there! Look into it closely and unceasingly. What really is it all about? Why did Zhao Zhou say "wu"? Investigate it while you are on the move, examine it while you are seated. Dwell on it and be intrigued by it day and night, without relenting for even one instant. While you are investigating it and examining it, do not try to understand it in the worldly sense or in the transcendental sense. Just go on as if nothing is happening in front of your eyes. If the flow of your investigation is smooth and seamless, do not be joyous because of that. If the flow of your investigation is intermittent and scattered, do not become discouraged. Whether you can truly do it or not, just carry on in a matter-of-fact manner. Do not give rise to the thought of wanting to find some skillful way to enhance the practice. Giving rise to such a thought is in fact creating an interruption in your practice. If you carry on unceasingly in this manner, by and by, your practice will naturally become seamless and it will happen that spontaneously the inner mind and the outer world will both be emptied and cleared. Instantly the saintly and the worldly will be transcended. At that point, you will realize that the Way is to be attained within your very being, not from anything external.
You have suffered in this impermanent world of birth and death for innumerable kalpas without being able to attain liberation. That is not due to any external causes. The very cause of this condition is the confusion and ignorance of your own mind. When the mind is confused, it enters into [birth and death] willingly. Nothing external could make it so. It is not so because of heaven and earth, or spirits and deities. If this willingness has its cause in external objects, it cannot be called willingness. Because it does not arise due to external objects, we say that it arises willingly. Since it is your own willingness that results in the entrapment of birth and death, you will not be able to transcend it and move towards nirvana without generating a profound willingness for such a purpose. If you intend to wait for the guidance and advice of the saints and sages to prod you into action, just consider the fact that when you entered the samsaric flow, it was not due to the prodding of others! Contemplating in this manner, if we can be willing to end the mind that clings to birth and death and turn towards the path, everyone will attain [enlightenment]. This is why the ancients said, "If one were to set one's mind as strongly on the path as one does on emotional attachments, one would have attained Buddhahood long ago," and, "If you engender a determined willingness [to practice], I can assure you that you will not be fooled." Such words are not said to deceive others!
In the past, Minister Feng wrote the following verse about his practice:
When not attending to my official duties, I enjoy sitting meditation.
It was long ago that I last laid my body down when sleeping.
Even though I live my life as a government minister,
All across the four oceans, people know of me as an elder on the Path.
Prince Li had this verse about practice:
A man on the path is a man with an iron will,
Whatever one encounters, the course of action is made instantly.
Directly coursing towards the supreme Bodhi,
Paying no attention to the disputes of the world.
Layman Pang said:
There is nothing special about my daily living,
It is only I being in harmony with myself.
Not grasping or rejecting anything,
Not favoring or opposing any conditions.
Who designated red as "red" and purple as "purple"?
The hills and the mountains are all free of dust.
Miraculous powers and wondrous functions,
Are but gathering wood and carrying water.
The scholar Zhang Zhuo said in his verse:
The luminous light illuminates the innumerable worlds quiescently,
The worldly and the saintly--all sentient beings are of my own household.
When not a single thought arises, it manifests completely,
When the six sense faculties move ever so slightly, it is covered by cloud.
To eradicate vexation will enhance your ill-ness,
Working towards true suchness is also deviated.
Flow with the world with no obstruction,
Nirvana and Samsara are both illusory flowers in the sky.
The respectable Zhao Qingxian composed the following verse:
Sitting silently in the court behind the desk,
The mind source unmoved--clear as water.
In the crash of a thunderbolt, the crown of the head splits open,
I recall what I have always had long ago.
These are all gentry who roamed and played in the great field of complete enlightenment without departing from worldly merits and fame. If the ancients could be like this, there is no reason why people today cannot do the same. If one has a profound faith and practices sincerely, there will be no difference between people today and people of old. Do not be hesitant! Otherwise you will be drawing a boundary to confine yourself.
The Buddhadharma is the gate of great liberation. The only requisites are that one should see the issue of birth and death as a grave affair, generate a profound faith, and straightforwardly investigate one's huatou with great effort. One should be most careful against reckoning and weighing one's progress, trying to figure out one's gain and loss. Do not be like practitioners of the two vehicles of individual liberation, who employ various methods such as loathing their bodies, avoiding contacts with the environment, quenching thoughts, relinquishing conditions, discarding what they love, expelling aversions, driving away emotional attachments, trying to depart from the illusory. Moreover, you should not run away from the clamor and seek quietude, or engage yourself in discriminating right from wrong, to grab the saintly and reject the worldly, or to fight against scattered mind and stupor. If you depart from the proper mindfulness of investigating "Wu" and give rise to the tiniest bit of concern for what I mentioned above, the sword would have swung by long before you realized it! It would be impossible for you to realize enlightenment. The only purpose of chan practice is to realize enlightenment. You should take care not to part with your huatou no matter what happens. If you give rise to any intention other than that of realizing enlightenment, you will not be attuned to the practice. Put utmost care into assuring this!
Practitioners today often preconceive an emotive idea of the saintly and the worldly. This conceptualization stays latent in the storehouse consciousness, and as a result, when thoughts arise, discriminations follow. These people generate the feelings of aversion and annoyance even before engaging in a task; and they constantly reckon and worry even before coming into contact with things. Well, if you cannot penetrate through directly and straightforwardly, you will just be toiling about busily, gaining no benefit in principle. Stay on guard of the huatou in a seamless manner, and make this seamless practice even more seamless. When you are practicing seamlessly, do not entertain any thought about this seamlessness. As soon as you give rise to such a thought, you will fall into [the trap of] seamlessness and you will be no longer attuned to the practice. [If you can just] persevere to the point that your practice is proficient and refined, the deluded emotional attachments of liking and aversion, grasping and rejecting, right and wrong will all be thoroughly eradicated without any contrivance, without a second thought.
The purpose of the Confucian path is to cultivate and refine the mind while the purpose of the Buddhist path is to enlighten and realize the mind. Cultivating and refining is gradual while enlightening and realizing is sudden. Although the mind is the same, the graduated path and the sudden path are different. And this difference is precisely that of the worldly and the transcendental. If the Buddha were to talk about how one should conduct oneself in the world, he would not be deviating from the [Confucian] teaching of making the mind upright and making one's intention sincere. Likewise, if Confucius were to talk about the way of the transcendental, the teaching could not be other than the essential principle of emptying the mind and attaining complete enlightenment. If one does not truly understand the great expediency of teachings and means of transformation instituted by the saints, one would merely be arguing and debating about them, bringing all sorts of disputes and quarrels.
When one engages in the study of worldly learning, the eight subjects of cultivating the Way, virtue, benevolence, righteousness, proper conduct, music, law, and [sociopolitical] order are not something alienated from the wondrous functions of the mind. When the mind has no obstruction, it is called the Way; if the mind is upright, it is called being virtuous; if the mind is infused with kindness, it is called benevolence; if the mind is objective, it is called righteousness; if the mind is undeviating, it is called proper conduct; if the mind is gentle and tranquil, it is called the joy [of musical aesthetics]; if the mind is straightforward, it is call the law; if the mind is imbued with clarity, it is called order. In fact, not only these eight subjects, but the hundreds and thousands of wholesome conducts--any action that is beneficial to the world and the multitude, all come about due to the wondrous functioning of the mind. A worldly person turns his or her back on it and loses this wondrous function. This is how all sorts of confusion and chaos come into being. As a result, the saints had no choice but to institute their teachings to rectify the situation. To further demonstrate this, I offer the following verses:
The ultimate Way has always been intimate with the mind,
Having attained no mind, you will see the reality of the Way as it is.
When the mind, the Way, existence, and nothingness are all extinguished,
You become an idle person in this universe of innumerable world systems.
Virtues are to be found in the nature of the myriad objects,
But only the virtues of human beings resonate with the mind.
Ever since I came to know of this,
In conversation or silence, clarity shines in accordance with the ultimately just.
The saints instituted a great diversity of teachings,
Transforming, educating, nurturing, and refining the multitude throughout this vast space and time.
Wanting to be benevolent, benevolence manifests,
There is no need to seek for anything outside the mind.
When the mind has achieved equanimity, the equality of self and others will be actualized,
Everything in one's daily living will be just fitting and appropriate.
As long as one sees the sameness of the Dharma nature of all,
This does not obstruct one from exercising kindness or authority.
It is not because of etiquette that one conducts oneself in a dignified manner,
When the mind is undeviating, proper conduct will be perfected naturally.
When we meet, there is no need to present elaborate gifts,
One snap of the fingers shows our authenticity and innocence.
The wind ensemble of nature plays a flute with no hole in the middle of the night,
The gushing water of the rivers strums a harp with no string in the morning light.
If you want to know wherefore one can attain this happiness,
It is to be found in your very mind.
To harbor unwholesome thoughts is to bring about punishments for the mind,
Three thousand rules and laws are instituted to govern this body of yours.
A man on the Path forgets all about good and evil,
While Law and order are clearly and vividly administered.
The mind is like a scale, indicating what is heavy and what is light,
When loaded, the weight is clearly shown.
Since time immemorial, all benevolent governings are similar,
For thousands of years, they have served as a standard for human beings to behold.
The final nature of phenomena is referred to in Mahayana texts by a variety of terms, including emptiness, suchness, reality-limit, and the ultimate. In the following passage, Asanga indicates how these terms are understood.
What is the suchness of virtuous phenomena? It is the two types of selflessness, emptiness, signlessness, reality-limit, the ultimate; it is also the element of qualities. Why is suchness called suchness? Because it is changeless. Why is emptiness so called? Because it does not serve as a cause of the afflictions. Why is signlessness so called? Because it pacifies signs. Why is reality-limit so called? Because it is a non-mistaken object of observation. Why is the ultimate so called? Because it is the sphere of activity of the supreme exalted wisdom of superiors. Why is the element of qualities so called? Because it is the cause of all of the qualities of hearers, solitary realizers, and buddhas.
Aspects of Sitting Meditation
By Ezra Bayda
By continually allowing the light of awareness to shine on the confusion and anxiety of the present moment, we break the circuitry of our conditioning. This is the path to freedom.
I used to approach sitting, and especially retreats, with the idea that meditation was supposed to make me feel a special way. Often, I just wanted to be free from anxiety. As a consequence, I rarely had a clear idea of what sitting was really about. Even now, when I'm no longer trying to feel some special way from sitting, I still find it helpful occasionally to reorient myself to exactly what I'm doing in my sitting practice.
How often have you realized, right in the middle of a sitting, that you don't even know what the basic practice is? How often have you asked yourself, "What exactly am I supposed to be doing here?"
This confusion is a normal part of the practice path, which is a good reason to review basic sitting instructions regularly. Practice can never be learned just through reading or thinking about it. To awaken clarity based on genuine understanding, we have to learn from our own experience. Nonetheless, it's good to have a clear overview of what sitting practice is, even if it is, in part, conceptual.
Meditation practice, can be divided into three parts. These three are not really separate and distinct; they are a continuum. For the purposes of description, however, we will look at these three aspects of sitting as if they were separate.
The first aspect of sitting is being-in-the-body. This is the basic ground of practice. When we first sit down to meditate, we take a specific posture. The important point is not which posture we take, but whether we're actually present to the physical experience. Being-in-the-body means we're awake, aware, present to what is actually going on. So even though it's true certain postures are conducive to this level of awareness, it's also true that we can meditate on a subway, standing up or lying in bed.
It's useful to have a routine to bring awareness to the physical reality of the moment, especially when we first sit down to meditate. For example, when I sit down I ask myself, "What is going on right now?" Then I touch in with my physical state, my mental/emotional state, and the environmental input (temperature, sound, light, and so on). This check might only take a few seconds, but it immediately takes me out my mental realm and grounds me in the more concrete physical world. The point is not to think about the body, the emotions, or the environment, but to actually feel them.
After this quick check, I return awareness to the posture by telling myself: "Allow the head to float to the top, so that the lower back can lengthen, broaden and soften." This reminder brings me further into my bodily experience. Throughout the sitting period, whenever I find myself spinning off into thoughts, I use this reminder to bring my awareness back to the present moment. The essence of being-in-the-body is simply to be here.
Normally, after settling into the sitting posture, I bring awareness to the breath in a very concentrated way for just a few minutes. I am not thinking about the breath, but bringing awareness to the actual sensations of it entering and leaving my body. For this brief period, when thoughts arise I don't label them; I narrow my awareness to focus solely on the experience of breathing. The value of this practice is that it allows me to settle into sitting.
`But the value of this (or any other) concentrative practice-that it can shut life out -is also its limitation. Practice is about opening to life, not about shutting it out. And even though continuous concentration on the breath can make us feel calm and relaxed as well as focused and centered, this is not the point of sitting practice. As much as we would like to have pleasing or special experiences, the path of meditation is about being awake. It's about being awake to whatever we feel. It's ultimately about learning to be with our life as it is. So although concentration practices can certainly be helpful at times, we aspire to spend most of our sitting time in a more wide-open awareness.
Wide-open awareness is the essence of being-in-the-body. This is where we become aware of bodily sensations, thoughts, changing states of mind, and input from the environment. The practice is just to be aware, to simply observe and experience whatever is happening. There is really nothing special about this approach -it is very low key. We're attempting to see and experience life as it arises by letting it just be there-minus our opinions and judgments. This approach highlights the never-ending struggle between just being here and our addiction to the comfort and security of our mental world.
So this first aspect of sitting-being-in-the-body-simple as it sounds, is actually very difficult. Why? Because we don't want to be here. A strong part of us prefers the self-centered dream of plans and fantasies. That's what makes this practice so difficult: the constant, unromantic, non-exotic struggle just to be here. As we sit in wide-open awareness, however, as the body/mind gradually settles down, we can begin to enter the silence, where passing thoughts no longer hook us. We enter the silence not by trying to enter, but through the constant soft effort to be present, allowing life to just be.
The second mode of sitting is labeling and experiencing. As we sit, emotions arise. Sometimes they pass when we become aware of them. But sometimes they demand more of our attention. When that happens, we become more focused in our practice. With precision we begin to label our thoughts. As well, we focus on experiencing the bodily state that is an inextricable part of an emotional reaction.
As emotions arise, we can ask, "What is this?" The answer to this question is never analytical. It cannot be reached with thought, because it is not what the emotion is about. It's what it is. So we look to our experience itself, noticing where we feel the emotion in the body. We notice its quality or texture. We notice its changing faces. And we come to know, as if for the first time, what the emotion actually feels like.
Invariably we will slip back into thinking. As long as we are caught in thinking, we can't continue to experience the bodily component of our emotions. In fact, the more intense the emotion, the more we will want to believe our thoughts. So the practice is to label the thoughts over and over-to see them clearly and to break our identification with them. That will almost always involve moving back and forth between labeling and experiencing.
Learning to stay with-to reside in-our emotions in this way allows us to see how most of our emotional distress is based on our conditioning, and particularly on the decisions and beliefs that arose out of that conditioning. We come to see that these emotional reactions-which we often fear and prefer to avoid-amount to little more that believed thoughts and strong or unpleasant physical sensations. We can see that when we are willing to experience them with precision and curiosity, we no longer have to fear them, or push them away. Thus our belief systems become clarified.
The third aspect of our sitting practice is opening into the heart of experiencing. On those occasions when we experience dense, intense or even overwhelming emotions, when we seem so confused that we don't even know how to practice-what can we do?
When the precision of labeling thoughts is not an option, the practice is to breathe the painful reaction into the center of the chest. Although eventually we will still need to clarify the believed thoughts that are an inextricable part of our emotional reaction, for now we simply open to our deepest fears and humiliations. We're pulling our swirling physical sensations, via the in-breath, into the center of the chest, allowing the center of the chest to be a container of awareness for our strong emotions. We're not trying to change anything. We're just learning to fully experience our emotions. Why? Because experiencing our emotions fully will allow them to break through the layers of self-protective armor and awaken our heart. Fully felt, our emotions will clear the path to the deep well of love and compassion that is the essence of our being.
It is in these darker moments, when we feel overwhelmed, that we are apt to judge ourselves most harshly. We're likely to solidify the most negative core beliefs about ourselves, seeing ourselves as weak, as losers, as hopeless. It's at this point that we most need a sense of heart, of kindness, of lightness, in the practice. We do this by learning to breathe into the heartspace, thereby undercutting the relentless self-judgment of our deeply held beliefs. As we breathe into this space, piercing our armoring and awakening the heart, we can open into a more benign awareness toward ourselves and the human predicament. We can begin to relate to ourselves as we might relate to a defenseless child in distress-nonjudgmentally, with friendliness, tolerance and kindness. Our willingness to breathe into the heart, to stay in that space for just one more breath, shows us our strength, our courage to go on.
By opening into the heart of experiencing, we can come to understand that everything is workable. This is one of the key points of practice. Our efforts to be-in-the-body, and to label and experience, will inevitably "fail" at times. We will have periods of aspiration and effort, followed by dry spots and apathy. Ups and downs in practice are predictable and inevitable. That we seize these ups and downs as opportunities to judge ourselves-as failures or as superstars-is the problem. The countermeasure is always to simply persevere-to attend to one more breath, to label one more thought, to experience one more sensation, to enter just one more time into the heartspace. We can then experience for ourselves that it is ultimately possible to work with everything. It may not be possible today, but it is possible. In fact, it may take years of work in all three aspects of sitting practice for this understanding to become real to us.
Until now I've spoken of these three modes of sitting as if they were distinct from each other. In truth, although each mode does entail a different aspect of practice, they do have one essential thing in common: they all require that we experience this present moment. That's what our practice always comes down to: just being here. By continually allowing the light of awareness to shine on the confusion and anxiety of the present moment, we break the circuitry of our conditioning. This is the slow transformative path to freedom.
(c) 2001 by Ezra Bayda. Ezra Bayda received dharma transmission from Charlotte Joko Beck, and teaches and writes at the Zen Center of San Diego. His first book will be published next year by Shambhala Publications.
Balanced Body and the Middle Way
By Will Johnson
For the most part, Buddhism has not made a big deal about the body. The great majority of Buddhist schools continue to focus on mind as the arena of maximum reward and accord body a much more diminished status as an avenue worthy of exploration.
The inherent problem with this attitude is that it is the experience of the body that provides the feeling ballast for the mind. If that is forfeited, the mind can all too easily float off into rarefied realms that, lofty as they might be, are but a shadow of the consciousness that meditation practices are designed to reveal. Mind ultimately wants to ground itself in the feeling presence of the body, not escape from it. If you want a mind that is balanced, then you need to create a balanced body to support it.
Alignment, Relaxation and Resilience
If the body is out of balance, it must create constant tension to offset the downward pull of gravity. This tension will manifest as discursiveness at the level of the mind. True balance of body, on the other hand, generates an ease and relaxation that naturally and spontaneously supports the awakened mind. In the words of Sasaki Roshi, "Buddha is the center of gravity."
To find the center of gravity within oneself means to balance the energy field of the body with the gravitational field of the earth. This balance appears through the conscious embodiment of three basic principles: alignment, relaxation and resilience.
Alignment: Ordinarily, we think of gravity as a force we need to brace ourselves against in order to stand erect. But gravity actually functions as a source of support for structures that are properly aligned around a predominantly vertical axis.
A human body that becomes aligned in this way can then begin to relax. It doesn't
have to tense its musculature to offset the downward pull of gravity, because
its aligned structure provides it with all the support it needs. Through the relaxation
of its tensions, it can literally drop its weight and its mind, surrendering to
the pull of gravity, and it doesn't topple over.
Resilience: To maintain its relaxed uprightness, a balanced body then begins to make spontaneous movements and adjustments, ever so slightly, ever so resiliently. If the body resists this natural urge to move and holds itself rigidly, it creates tension and forfeits its relaxation.
Of these three principles, resilience can be the
most challenging for Buddhist practitioners, who have been taught to sit very
still in order for the mind to become still. Stillness, however, implies quiescence,
not rigidity, and so the Zen poet Ikkyu reminds us: "To harden into a Buddha
is wrong." If you hold your body rigidly, your mind will become very active
and agitated. If you allow subtle resilient movement to pass through your body,
however, the mind naturally becomes calmer, and you remain relaxed and alert.
The whole purpose of playing with balance is that it lifts the curtain of muscular tension that ordinarily conceals the body's sensations. In the words of the Buddha, "Everything that arises in the mind starts flowing with a sensation in the body." If we remain unconscious of these sensations because of imbalance and constant muscular tension, we remain unconscious of the full depth of the mind and we forfeit our access to the wholesome states of mind of which the Buddha speaks. But when body is vibrantly present, mind is naturally clear and deep. Attempting to manifest clear mind without attending to the experience of your body is like trying to drive away in your car without first turning the key in the ignition.
While the principles of alignment, relaxation, and
resilience can guide you as you explore your body's relationship with gravity,
balance can't be superimposed from without but must be felt within. This discovery
of feeling is the practice. Balance never appears as a static end state or an
attained goal. It is something to play with constantly, a dance and practice that
An Exercise in Balance
Stand for a moment barefoot on the floor with your feet touching. Envision the major segments of your body-your feet, lower and upper legs, pelvis, abdomen, chest, neck and head-as building blocks a child has stacked one on top of the other. If these blocks are stacked up carefully, one directly on top of another, the pile will remain standing. But if they're not, the column will probably come crashing to the ground.
With the least amount of effort possible, feel the major segments of your body lining up, one on top of the next, just like the child's building blocks. Alignment has a distinct feeling of ease and effortlessness associated with it, so be careful not to bring tension into your body as you coax your bodily segments into a more vertical relationship with one another.
Then with your feet firmly planted on the floor, begin to sway the body slowly as a unit-to the right and to the left, to the front and to the back. At first, make your movements quite extreme, almost to the point of toppling over. Feel what it's like to be out of alignment, and then contrast that with the feeling as the body regains its verticality. When the body veers away from alignment, you can feel tension and holding; when the body moves back into a more aligned structure, the tension and holding fall away.
Keep bobbing and swaying randomly, gradually making your movements smaller and smaller. Eventually, you will come to a place where the body does not sway much at all. While this place may feel unfamiliar to you, it will also have a feeling of rightness. The body just stands, supported by gravity. This is your place of alignment.
Now begin to relax. Relaxation is nothing more or less than the surrender of the weight of the body to gravity. Because your body is aligned, you can do this without toppling over. Starting with your head, feel the tension in your body literally dropping away. As long as the tension drops directly through the building block underneath, you will stay standing easily. Can you drop your mind as well? Spiritual teachers tell us to drop the mind-can you feel what it might be to take that instruction literally?
Quite likely this new place of balance will feel willowy and insecure. Wonderful! True balance is never stable and still. A body in balance is constantly, resiliently moving. Feel how natural it is to allow these subtle, spontaneous movements to occur. Keep surrendering and letting go. Play with your alignment. Relax your tensions. Go with whatever movements need to occur for you to stay upright and relaxed.
Keep monitoring the feelings and sensations in the body.
They are the guide that helps you maintain your effortless balance. These sensations
and feeling tones will constantly change. You can't hold on to any of them; you
just have to keep letting go, moment by moment. What is your mind doing? See how
when you become lost in thought your body immediately forfeits its balance. Let
go of the tension again, allow the body to move like a prayer flag in a gentle
breeze, and watch the thoughts disappear effortlessly.
Let's look at one of Buddhism's favorite objects of contemplation, the passage of the breath. In most schools, breath is presented as an object for the mind to observe and concentrate upon. We count it. We watch it move in and out of our nostrils. We observe how it causes our belly to rise and fall.
While all this
is very helpful in concentrating the mind, the Buddha never wanted us just to
observe the breath, as though we were watching a parade from a safe distance.
He wanted us to dive right into the thick of it, to so merge our awareness of
self with the action of the breath that we would become breathing, and in this
way, experience how breath, body and being are inextricably one. When you breathe
in, do it with your whole body, the Buddha tells us in the Satipatthana Sutra.
And then, when you have to breathe out, make sure the entire body participates
in that act as well.
To breathe with your whole body, you need to feel the whole thing, every little cell and sensation, vibrantly and palpably alive. You can't just retreat to the cool observatory of your mind, watching passively as the breath moves in and out, and expect to feel this fundamental union of breath and body.
Let your whole body become the organ of respiration. The action of the breath doesn't have to be confined to just the mouth, the windpipe, the lungs, the ribs and the diaphragm. It can be felt to move through the whole body, just like a wave that moves through water, causing subtle movements at every joint. The movement of such a breath will massage the entire body and stimulate even more sensations to appear.
Such an unrestricted pattern of breath,
however, is only truly available when the body is balanced. The holding and tension
that are necessary to keep an imbalanced body erect will function as blocks to
the free movement of the breath, and breathing will remain shallow, sensations
dim. Bring the body to balance, however, and the breath can become an extraordinary
event that blows away the inner cobwebs of cloudy mind and dull sensation.
Surrender to your next inhalation, let the breath breathe you, and simultaneously relax the body as much as possible. Feel all its energies, all its sensations, head to foot, leaving none out. Go deep inside to a place in which you can feel the whole body all at once as a relaxed, unified field of sensations. Find this place and then surrender to the full power of the breath-in and out, in and out, over and over again.
Don't force the breath, but don't coddle yourself
and hold back on it either. Just surrender to its innate power. It will come open
on its own, organically and naturally, sometimes gently, sometimes explosively.
If you can surrender to the breath in this way, it will take you on a journey
deeper and deeper into the uncharted regions of your body, where withheld and
unfelt sensations are just waiting to be nudged from their slumber. Over time,
as the breath succeeds in melting and healing the restrictions to its freest expression,
it will cleanse you from head to toe.
This Very Body
Remember the Zen master Hakuin's declaration, "This very body is the Buddha." When consciousness and the felt presence of body come together as a single, merged phenomenon, awakening occurs naturally. Consider the following instructions from one of the most famous texts of vajrayana Buddhism, Tilopa's "Song of Mahamudra":
Do nothing with the body but relax.
Let the mind rest in its natural, unformed state.
Become like a hollow bamboo.
The only thing you ever need to do with your body is to relax. But once again, this can only occur if you play with balance. Without aligning the body, you can't fully relax, and without surrendering to the spontaneous, resilient movements that naturally want to occur through the body, relaxation cannot continue over time.
The ultimate purpose of balance is that it lets the current of the life force, felt as an unending flow of sensations, pass freely and continually through the entire conduit of the body, just like wind passing through the empty center of a hollow piece of bamboo. U Ba Khin, the twentieth-century Burmese meditation master and proponent of one of the few body-oriented approaches to Buddhist practice, called this bodily force nibbana dhatu, literally, the force that generates the enlightened mind.
Once this force is activated, it functions like a grass fire that burns away old debris and brush, preparing the ground for new growth. When nibbana dhatu becomes operational, it rages through the body and mind and burns away the residues and accretions that keep the enlightened mind hidden and contained. Because any blockage to the free flow of energy in the body will hamper the passage of this force, only if your body becomes like a hollow bamboo will you be able to experience and benefit from its purificatory action.
If you play with balance, whether doing
formal sitting practice or moving about in your life, the condition of mind that
you long to give birth to will gradually appear as a natural consequence. But
never think that there is a perfected end to balance, that you are going to arrive
at some kind of ultimate balanced state. Such a condition doesn't exist, and would
become a great bondage if it did. Breath by breath, sensation by sensation, everything
moves and shifts. Balance is constantly adjusting itself. Just keep staying open
to this movement, this ongoing dance of balance.
Will Johnson has been a Buddhist practitioner since 1972 and a certified rolfer since 1976. He is author of The Posture of Meditation and Aligned, Relaxed, Resilient: The Physical Foundations of Mindfulness.
Four Ordinary Foundations
By Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche
When the dharma spread to Tibet it was practiced in the context of the "secret mantra Vajrayana". The way in which the Four Noble Truths were practiced in the Vajrayana was by way of what are known as the "four thoughts that turn the mind" (The Four Ordinary Foundations). These are:
1. The difficulty of finding a free and well-favoured situation.
2. Death and impermanence.
3. Karma and its effects.
4. The disadvantages of cyclic existence (Skt. samsara).
In the four ordinary foundations the essential practice is abandonment of attachment to samsara in general. It is only by abandoning attachment to the world that one can actually begin to meditate. As long as one is attached to ordinary worldly things, one's very life becomes an obstacle to meditation, and it is for this reason that the reflections on topics such as the sufferings of samsara, etc., are taught. It is only by abandoning attachment that one can begin to move away from samsara towards the realized nature. Such abandonment is referred to as the "feet of meditation". More specifically, one must abandon attachment to the eight worldly dharmas and to food, clothing and possessions.
eight worldly dharmas are the things appearing in the world that ordinary worldly
people strive for or against. Being overly concerned with them prevents dharma
practice. The eight worldly dharmas are loss and gain, or concern with whether
one gets material goods or loses them; pleasure and pain, or whether one is happy
or unhappy; praise and blame; fame and notoriety, or whether one has a good or
bad reputation. All these are ordinary worldly concerns. One whose actions are
determined by such considerations cannot begin to work away from the confusion
of samsara towards the realized nature.
So, attachment to the eight worldly dharmas, as well as attachment to food, possessions, the telling of pleasant stories and so on, must be given up. One should take the hills as one's children and the fog as one's clothes: one should simply eat whatever happens to come along, without discrimination as to whether it is delicious food or not, and exert oneself one-pointedly in the dharma, with no aspiration for worldly things whatsoever. Non-attachment to anything that one might possibly receive in samsara is the real way for the mind to develop.
In order to help break attachment to ordinary samsara,
and especially to this life, "the four thoughts that turn the mind from samsara"
are taught as the first preliminary or foundation stages in practicing dharma.
There is a saying to the effect that the preliminaries are more profound than
the actual teachings themselves. Of course, it is the actual practice of meditation
which enables one to purify disturbing emotions and to develop Buddha-qualities,
and therefore it is the actual practice of meditation which is the most profound
phase of the teachings. However, without properly approaching the actual practices,
through the preliminaries, one will not have turned away from samsara, and will
at best mix one's meditation practice with ordinary samsaric activity and, thereby,
be unable to develop much. With the appropriate attitude of reversion from samsara,
however, one will actually be able to attain realization, and for this reason
the preliminaries are most important.
Taking these a little out of order:
Impermanence and Death
The main thought which turns the mind away from samsara is impermanence. The Buddha said that the nature of samsara is suffering. Learned persons and great practitioners of the past have studied this teaching of impermanence carefully. They found that when one doesn't recognize impermanent things as being impermanent, then one will become attached to various appearances of samsara which seem to create happiness, but really don't. Being influenced by attachment to impermanent things makes it so we cannot enter the dharma. Not being able to enter the dharma means we won't practice and will never alleviate our suffering.
Fundamentally, the contemplation on impermanence is the recollection of the fact that everything in the universe, including every being, is in a state of constant change.
persons think that the Buddhist way is not good because it believes that impermanence
leads to negativity such as saying everything is empty. However, in fact, there
is an important reason for stressing impermanence at the very beginning of the
The reason impermanence and selflessness are taught from the beginning is that these are the actual characteristics of things or phenomena. Even though impermanence is a characteristic of samsara we tend to not actually notice and understand its actual character. For this reason the Buddha said, "Through recognizing the actual nature of phenomena in samsara, we will be able to achieve the great kingdom."
Let us illustrate this with an ordinary
example. Suppose there were a poisonous snake right next to where I am sitting
and I didn't know about it. As long as I didn't know about it, I am sitting here
comfortably and happily while there is a great danger that I am not aware of.
Gradually this poisonous snake comes closer and closer and then it bites me. After
it does so I find myself in a very difficult situation, with a lot of pain and
hardship, in fact, I am helpless. If, on the other hand someone were to say to
me, "There is a poisonous snake right near where you are", even though
that might be a bit alarming and painful to hear right then, nevertheless, it
would allow me to escape from the danger and not undergo the hardship of being
bitten. For this reason, the Buddha and the spiritual friends of the past taught
initially that impermanence and suffering are the nature of phenomena of samsara,
so that it is possible to turn away from and to flee from that. So, there is a
real reason in teaching impermanence.
The Precious Human Birth
Impermanence is the definitive mark of samsara and if we consider the lifetime of human beings, we see that the lifetime of human beings is short. For instance, there are some turtles that live to be three or four hundred years old. Human beings don't live to be three hundred years old, so from that point of view, the lifetime of human beings is very short. In that short lifetime, it is extremely important to practice the dharma so we can pass beyond the impermanent things of samsara. Is it possible for us to cross over this ocean of samsara to the far shore and achieve freedom from impermanent, painful conditions? Well, if we were talking about animals or hungry ghosts, it is almost impossible for them to reach enlightenment.
However, our situation is that we have the very good fortune of having the body of a human being, with which we are able to practice the dharma of the Buddha. We have the intelligence which makes it possible for us to understand those things that are to be done and those things that are to be discarded. It is from this point of view that the teachers of the past have said that having a human body is extremely fortunate and is extremely difficult to attain. Receiving a human body is extremely important and fortunate. It is the basis for liberation from samsara; a state of complete freedom.
The Disadvantages of Samsara
So, when we have a human body what is the method for achieving liberation from samsara? How then shall we practice? Shall we focus upon achieving the happiness that is included within samsara by abandoning the unpleasant and painful situations of samsara? No, the happiness of samsara is not very stable and the happiness and pleasure we need is something beyond temporary happiness that is other than the happiness within samsara. So the learned and accomplished persons of the past have talked about the unsatisfying, faulty nature of samsara, saying even the pleasures of samsara are temporary and have no lasting benefit or meaning.
Karma and Its Effects
Is it possible to abandon the suffering of samsara and pass beyond the suffering of samsara? If the world were created by a god then we would be helpless. It would not be within our own power to do much about our own situation, and achieve real happiness. However, some deity has not created the world, so we have the power to do something about our situation. That is because the situation we are in is the fruition of our own actions; our actions are a cause that has created the particular effect. Therefore it is within our power to abandon the causes of suffering. If, for instance, we hear about the great suffering that beings have to undergo in the lower realms and we feel frightened by that and do not want to have to experience that kind of suffering. Is it within our own power to prevent the experience of this kind of suffering?
Yes, it is because ill deeds and non-virtuous activities are the cause of being born in a lower realm. And it is within our power not to engage in such ill deeds and unfavourable activities. If, on the other hand, we wish to enjoy the happiness of the higher realms within samsara, we can do that. Because the practice of virtuous actions is the cause of taking birth in a comfortable, pleasant and good situation; a high migration within cyclic existence (samsara). In that way, it is within our own power to do what we want to do. If we want to achieve nirvana or the state of having crossed beyond all suffering of cyclic existence we can simply engage in the causes that lead to nirvana.
The Buddha initially explained the Four Noble Truths and in particular the truth of suffering. As I said before, in Tibet where the tradition of the Vajrayana was most widely practiced, this teaching on suffering was practiced mainly in terms of the four thoughts that turns one's mind from samsara. These were practiced first of all through understanding these four points. Having understood them, we then meditate upon them by making it extremely clear and vivid in our mind and doing this again and again and again, until we have become extremely accustomed and familiar with it, to the point in which it actually dwells in our mind and we have a great confidence in it.
© Copyright Namo Buddha Publications & Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal Publications 2002.
Preciousness of the Master
Chogyal Namkhai Norbu
Since 1992, up to
the present, I have been traveling and teaching uninterruptedly. I
usually live in Italy but I left there last April. I have been going to different countries,
meeting people and transmitting knowledge.
Of course when I arrive in a country, those people only think of themselves. They do
not understand what kind of effort I have been making year after year, month after
month. For that reason, when I arrived in India and Nepal (December '93 - January '94)
I had a lot of problems with my blood pressure. Sometimes while I am teaching during
retreats I feel very heavy.
Recently two Tibetan teachers died in India from problems of blood pressure, one of
them while he was giving teaching. Why? Because teachers try to do their best. But
many people do not understand that teachers make a great deal of effort and accumulate
that effort for months and months. That is why I try to be aware so that I can live longer
and work longer with you. For that reason I must rest, otherwise I cannot do more.
Some years ago in New Zealand people made a very heavy schedule for me. When
I told them that it was too heavy they said that a teacher never gets tired because he
is a realized being and is beyond problems. Of course if I am a teacher like Guru
Padmasambhava who has obtained the rainbow body then there is no problem. But you
know that I am living in a physical body. Everyone who lives in a physical body eats,
drinks, sleeps, and does many different activities. Why do we sleep? Because we
need sleep to continue living. It is the same thing with resting, eating, drinking, etc. If
someone is physcially dead then there is always a problem. You know that even Buddha
Sakyamuni manifested death.
We must be concerned a little about these matters. So do not think that I am not
working or giving enough teachings. It is much better that you have contact with
me in this life rather than the next life. This means that you, too, should be aware.
I am giving teachings for many days. The principle of the teaching is trying to
understand and then applying that understanding. It is more than sufficient that
I am giving teaching for seven or eight days. During this period of time there are
possibilities to do many other things. For example, I can give some transmissions
or lung of different practices for new people which they can learn to do with older
students. For example, many people do not know how to do the practice. So I can
give a lung and a trilung, a kind of instruction, and then new students can learn
the details with older students.
As you can see I am traveling with people who are helping to teach both Yantra Yoga
and the Dance of the Vajra both of which you can learn when you have time. It is not
always necessary to be with me.
State of Pure Awareness
The following passage from the Hevajra Tantra describes the state of mind of one who has transcended all discursive and dichotomizing thought through direct, intuitive awareness of the boundless clarity of mind.
From self-experiencing comes this knowledge, which is free from ideas of self and other; like the sky it is pure and void, the essence supreme of non-existence and existence, a mingling of wisdom and method, a mingling of passion and absence of passion. It is the life of living things, it is the Unchanging One Supreme; it is all-pervading, abiding in all embodied things. It is the stuff the world is made of, and in it existence and non-existence have their origin. It is all other things that there are....It is the essential nature of all existing things and illusory in its forms.
is This Me?
by Toni Packer
A somber day, isn't it? Dark, cloudy, cool, moist and windy. Amazing, this whole affair of the weather!
We call it weather, but what is it really? Wind. Rain. Clouds slowly parting. Not the words spoken about it, but just this darkening, blowing, pounding and wetting, and then lightening up, blue sky appearing amid darkness, and sunshine sparkling on wet grasses and leaves. In a little while there'll be frost, snow and ice covers. And then warming again, melting, oozing water everywhere. On an early spring day the dirt road sparkles with streams of wet silver. So-what is weather other than this incessant change of earthly conditions and all the human thoughts, feelings and undertakings influenced by it? Like and dislike. Depression and elation. Creation and destruction. An ongoing, ever-changing stream of happenings abiding nowhere. No real entity weather exists anywhere except in thinking and talking about it.
Now, is there such an entity as me or I? Or is it just like the weather-an ongoing, ever-changing stream of ideas, images, memories, projections, likes and dislikes, creation and destruction, that thought keeps calling I, me, Toni, and thereby solidifying what is evanescent? What am I really, truly, and what do I merely think and believe I am?
Are we interested in exploring this amazing affair of myself from moment to moment? Is this, maybe, the essence of this work? Exploring ourselves attentively, beyond the peace and quiet that we are seeking and maybe finding occasionally? Coming upon an amazing insight into this deep sense of separation that we call me and other people, me and the world, without any need to condemn or overcome?
Most human beings take it for granted that I am me, and that me is this body, this mind, this knowledge and sense of myself that feels so obviously distinct and separate from other people and from the nature around us. The language in which we talk to ourselves and to each other inevitably implies separate me's and you's all the time. All of us talk I-and-you talk. We think it, write it, read it, and dream it with rarely any pause. There is incessant reinforcement of the sense of me, separate from others. Isolated, insulated me. Not understood by others. How are we to come upon the truth if separateness is taken so much for granted, feels so commonsense?
The difficulty is not insurmountable. Wholeness, our true being, is here all the time, like the sun behind the clouds. Light is here in spite of cloud cover.
What makes up the clouds?
Can we begin to realize that we live in conceptual, abstract ideas about ourselves? That we are rarely in touch directly with what actually is going on? Can we realize that thoughts about myself-I'm good or bad, I'm liked or disliked-are nothing but thoughts, and that thoughts do not tell us the truth about what we really are? A thought is a thought, and it triggers instant physical reactions, pleasures and pains throughout the bodymind. Physical reactions generate further thoughts and feelings about myself-"I'm suffering," "I'm happy," "I'm not as bright, as good-looking as the others."
That feedback implies that all this is me, that I have gotten hurt, or feel good about myself, or that I need to defend myself or get more approval and love from others. When we're protecting ourselves in our daily inter-relationships we're not protecting ourselves from flying stones or bomb attacks. It's from words we're taking cover, from gestures, from coloration of voice and innuendo.
"We're protecting ourselves, we're taking cover." In using our common language the implication is constantly created that there is someone real who is protecting and someone real who needs protection.
Is there someone real to be protected from words and gestures, or are we merely living in ideas and stories about me and you, all of it happening in the ongoing audio/video drama of ourselves?
The utmost care and attention is needed to see the internal drama fairly, accurately, dispassionately, in order to express it as it is seen. What we mean by "being made to feel good" or "getting hurt" is the internal enhancing of our ongoing me-story, or the puncturing and deflating of it. Enhancement or disturbance of the me-story is accompanied by pleasurable energies or painful feelings and emotions throughout the organism. Either warmth or chill can be felt at the drop of a word that evokes memories, feelings, passions. Conscious or unconscious emotional recollections of what happened yesterday or long ago surge through the bodymind, causing feelings of happiness or sadness, affection or humiliation.
Right now words are being spoken, and they can be followed literally. If they are fairly clear and logical they can make sense intellectually. Perhaps at first it's necessary to understand intellectually what is going on in us. But that's not completely understanding the whole thing. These words point to something that may be directly seen and felt, inwardly, as the words are heard or read.
As we wake up from moment to moment, can we experience freshly, directly, when hurt or flattery is taking place?
What is happening? What is being hurt? And what keeps the hurt going?
Can there be some awareness of defenses arising, fear and anger forming, or withdrawal taking place, all accompanied by some kind of story-line? Can the whole drama become increasingly transparent? And in becoming increasingly transparent, can it be thoroughly questioned? What is it that is being protected? What is it that gets hurt or flattered? Me? What is me? Is it images, ideas, memories?
It is amazing. A spark of awareness witnessing how one spoken word arouses pleasure or pain throughout the bodymind. Can the instant connection between thought and sensations become palpable? The immediacy of it. No I-entity directing it, even though we say and believe I am doing all that. It's just happening automatically, with no one intending to "do" it. Those are all afterthoughts!
We say, "I didn't want to do that," as though we could have done otherwise. Words and reaction proceed along well-oiled pathways and interconnections. A thought about the loss of a loved one comes up and immediately the solar plexus tightens in pain. Fantasy of lovemaking occurs and an ocean of pleasure ensues. Who does all that? Thought says, "I do. I'm doing that to myself."
To whom is it happening? Thought says, "To me, of course!"
But where and what is this I, this me, aside from all the thoughts and feelings, the palpitating heart, the painful and pleasurable energies circulating throughout the organism? Who could possibly be doing it all with such amazing speed and precision? Thinking about ourselves and the triggering of physiological reactions takes time, but present awareness brings the whole drama to light instantly. Everything is happening on its own. No one is directing the show!
Right at this moment wind is storming, windows are rattling, tree branches are creaking, and leaves are quivering. It's all here in the listening-but whose listening is it? Mine? Yours? We say, "I'm listening," or, "I cannot listen as well as you do," and these words befuddle the mind with feelings and emotions learned long ago. You may be protesting, "My hearing isn't yours. Your body isn't mine." We have thought like that for eons and behave accordingly; but at this moment can there be just the sound of swaying trees and rustling leaves and fresh air from the open window cooling the skin? It's not happening to anyone. It's simply present for all of us, isn't it?
I sound as though I'm trying to convince you of something? The passion arising
in trying to communicate simply, clearly, may be mistaken for a desire to influence
people. That's not the case. There is just the description of what is happening
here for all of us. Nothing needs to be sold or bought. Can we simply listen and
investigate what is being offered for exploration from moment to moment?
What is the me that gets hurt or flattered, time and time again, the world over? In psychological terms we say that we are identified with ourselves. In spiritual language we say that we are attached to ourselves. What is this ourselves? Is it feeling of myself existing, knowing what I am, having lots of recollections about myself-all the ideas and pictures and feelings about myself strung together in a coherent story? And knowing this story very well-multitudes of memories, some added, some dropped, all interconnected-what I am, how I look, what my abilities and disabilities are, my education, my family, my name, my likes and dislikes, opinions, beliefs, and so on. The identification with all of that, which says, "This is what I am." And the attachment to it, which says, "I can't let go of it."
Let' s go beyond concepts and look directly into what we mean by them. If one says, "I'm identified with my family name," what does that mean? Let me give an example. As a growing child I was very much identified with my last name because it was my father's and he was famous, so I was told. I liked to tell others about my father's scientific achievements to garner respect and pleasurable feelings for myself by impressing friends. I felt admiration through other people's eyes. It may not even have been there. It may have been projected. Perhaps some people even felt, "What a bore she is!" On the entrance door to our apartment there was a little polished brass plate with my father's name engraved on it and his titles: "Professor Doctor Phil." The "Phil" impressed me particularly, because I thought it meant that my father was a philosopher, which he was not. I must have had the idea that a philosopher was a particularly imposing personage. So I told some of my friends about it and brought them to look at the little brass sign at the door.
This is one meaning of identification: enhancing one's sense of self by incorporating ideas about other individuals or groups, or one's possessions, achievements or transgressions, anything, and feeling that all of this is me. Feeling important about oneself generates amazingly addictive energies.
To give another example from the past: I became very identified with my half-Jewish descent. Not openly in Germany, where I mostly tried to hide it rather than display it, but later on after the war ended, telling people of our family' s fate and finding welcome attention, instant sympathy, and nourishing interest in the story. One can become quite addicted to making the story of one's life impressive to others and to oneself, and feed on the energies aroused by that. And when that sense of identification and attachment is disturbed by someone not buying into it, contesting it, or questioning it altogether, there is sudden insecurity, physical discomfort, anger, fear and hurt.
Becoming a member of a Zen center and engaging in spiritual practice, I realized one day that I had not been talking about my background in a long while. And now, when somebody brings it up-sometimes an interviewer will ask me to talk about it-it feels like so much bother and effort. Why delve into old memory stuff? I want to talk about listening, the wind, and the birds.
Are we listening right now? Or are we more interested in identities and stories?
We all love stories, don't we? Telling them and hearing them is wonderfully entertaining.
At times people wonder why I don't call myself a teacher when I'm so obviously engaged in teaching. Somebody actually brought it up this morning-the projections and the associations aroused in waiting outside the meeting room and then entering nervously with a pounding heart. Do images of teacher and student offer themselves automatically like clothes to put on and roles to play in these clothes? In giving talks and meeting with people the student-teacher imagery does not have to be there; it belongs to a different level of existence. If images do come up, they're in the way, like clouds hiding the sun. Relating without images is the freshest, freest thing in the universe.
So, what am I and what are you? What are we without images clothing and hiding our true being? It's un-image-inable, isn't it? And yet there's the sound of wind blowing, trees shaking, crows cawing, woodwork creaking, breath flowing without need for any thoughts. Thoughts are grafted on top of what's actually going on right now, and in that grafted world we happen to spend most of our lives.
Yet every once in awhile, whether one does meditation or not, the real world shines wondrously through everything. How is it when words fall silent? When there is no knowing? When there is no listener and yet there is listening, awaring in utter silence?
The listening to, the awaring of the me-story is not part of the me. Awareness is not part of that network. The network cannot witness itself. It can think about itself and even change itself, establish new behavior patterns, but it cannot see itself or free itself. There is a whole psychological science called behavior modification that, through reward and punishment, tries to drop undesirable habits and adopt better, more sociable ones. This is not what we're talking about. The seeing, the awaring of the me movement is not part of the me movement.
A moment during a visit with my parents in Switzerland comes to mind. I had always had a difficult relationship with my mother. I had been afraid of her. She was a very passionate woman with lots of anger, but also love. Once during that visit I saw her standing in the dining room facing me. She was just standing there, and for no known reason I suddenly saw her without the past. There was no image of her, and also no idea of what she saw in me. All that was gone. There was nothing left except pure love for this woman. Such beauty shone out of her. And our relationship changed; there was a new closeness. No one changed it. It just happened.
Truly seeing is freeing beyond imagination.
Toni Packer began studing Zen in 1967 with Roshi Philip Kapleau at the Rochester Zen Center. In 1981, she founded the Springwater Center for Meditative Inquiry in Springwater, New York. From The Wonder of Presence and the Way of Meditative Inquiry, by Toni Packer. Published by Shambhala Publications. © 2003 by Toni Packer.
Turns the Wheel of Life
by Francesca Freemantle
Buddha described all worldly phenomena as having three characteristics: impermanence,
suffering and nonself. We suffer because we imagine what is not self to be self,
what is impermanent to be permanent, and what, from an ultimate viewpoint, is
pain to be pleasure.
Existence with these three characteristics is called samsara, which means we are continually flowing, moving on, from one moment to the next moment, and from one life to the next life. Samsara is not the actual external world or life itself, but the way we interpret them.
life as we live it under the influence of ignorance, the subjective world each
of us creates for ourselves. This world contains good and evil, joy and pain,
but they are relative, not absolute; they can be defined only in relationship
to each other and are continually changing into their opposites. Although samsara
seems to be all-powerful and all-pervading, it is created by our own state of
mind, like the world of a dream, and it can be dissolved into nothingness just
like awakening from a dream. When someone awakens to reality, even for a moment,
the world does not disappear but is experienced in its true nature: pure, brilliant,
sacred and indestructible.
The key to the Buddha's realization and teaching is the understanding of causality, because it is only when we know the cause of something that we can truly bring it to an end and prevent it from arising again. In his search for the origin of suffering, he found that he had to go right back to the very beginning, to the very first flicker of individual self-awareness. In his spiritual practice, too, he always went further and further, never satisfied with the states of knowledge, peace and bliss that he attained under the guidance of his teachers. He always wanted to know their cause and to see what lay beyond. In this way, he surpassed his teachers and eventually attained his great awakening.
The Buddha awoke to a state of perfect enlightenment, which he described as deathless, unborn and unchanging. If it were not for that, he said, there could be no escape from birth and death, impermanence and suffering. There is indeed a condition of ultimate peace, bliss, knowledge and freedom, but to reach it, we must first understand the cycle of conditioned existence in which we are imprisoned. Samsara is like a sickness; the Buddha, who was called the Great Physician, offers a cure; but the patient must recognize the illness, with its causes, its symptoms, and its effects, before the cure can begin.
The Buddha discovered the
whole causal process of samsara, the complete cycle of the stages of cause and
effect. According to tradition, he once described this process in a series of
images, so that it could be sent in pictorial form to the king of a neighboring
country who had inquired about his teaching. An artist drew the images according
to the Buddha's instructions, illustrating the whole realm of samsaric existence
from which we seek liberation. This picture is known as the wheel of life and
is familiar throughout the Buddhist world. It springs from the same tradition
of imagery that flowers so dramatically in vajrayana, but goes back to the beginnings
The outer rim of the wheel of life is divided into twelve sections, each containing a small picture. These represent the twelve links in the chain of cause and effect, known as dependent arising or, as Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche put it, the samsaric chain reaction. The twelve links can be seen as stages in the evolution of the individual human being (or any other living being), but at the same time they can be applied to one's states of mind, which are continuously arising, developing, and passing away.
We can trace back the causes of suffering to their root by means of the twelve links in this chain. They should all also be understood as taking place within us from moment to moment, so that as we go through this whole series of images, we are also observing the birth, life and death of mental states.
1. Decay and Death
The iconography may vary slightly in different paintings, but somewhere on the rim, generally at the top left, we find a picture of a corpse being carried to the cremation ground: this is called decay and death. It is often translated as old age and death, but since many people die young and do not reach old age, here "age" really refers to the whole process of aging and decay, which actually begins as soon as we are born. All pain, whether it is physical or mental, arises from some aspect of loss, destruction or decay, so this image represents all the sufferings of existence.
The real cause of decay and death is not our physical condition, not illness or accident, but life itself, the simple fact of having been born. Moving counterclockwise around the circle, we come to the second picture, a mother giving birth to a child. Although this link in the chain is known as birth, it does not mean just the event of being born, but the life that has come into being; it encompasses the whole lifetime of that particular embodiment. It can refer to the birth of a living being, or the physical appearance of something in the external world, or it may be interpreted as the arising of a thought or a mood in the mind.
The next picture, illustrating the cause leading to birth, is sometimes of a pregnant woman and sometimes of a man and woman in sexual union. Both these images suggest conception, the beginning of a new life. This link is called existence, life, or becoming-coming into existence. Existence means being in the state of samsara: outwardly subject to birth and death, inwardly under the influence of ignorance and confusion.
Why do states of mind arise? Why do we continuously create our version of the world from moment to moment? Why does a living being enter a womb to be born? When we search for the cause of becoming, we find it in grasping. The word for this link in the chain literally means appropriation or taking to oneself, and it is symbolized by a figure picking fruit from a tree. Grasping is the opposite of giving and letting go. We hold on tight to our opinions, our views of life, and our ideas about ourselves; again and again we grasp at the next thought, the next emotion, the next experience; at the moment of death, we grasp at the next life.
Grasping is based, in turn, on the fundamental instinct of needing, wanting and longing called thirst. It is depicted by a person drinking or being offered a drink. That's the thirst for existence that makes us cling to life at all costs, and it is also the basic drive to experience pleasure and to be free from pain. Thirst can never be satisfied; even if we drink as much as we can, it will return sooner or later. It is inherent in our sense of self. This thirst, also translated as desire or craving, is often said to be the cause of suffering. It's not the ultimate cause, but it is the immediate and most obvious cause.
Thirst for experience depends upon the possibility of feeling or sensation, symbolized by a man pierced in the eye by an arrow. This brutal image reminds us sharply that the whole series is intended to express the inescapable suffering of samsara. It is interesting to note that the Sanskrit word for "feeling" can specifically mean pain, as well as sensation in general. This points to the truth that in samsara, from the absolute point of view, all feeling of any kind is essentially painful because it is related to our false idea of self. But in the awakened state, where there is no self-centered attachment or aversion, all feeling is experienced as "great bliss." Great bliss is not just increased pleasure, but a transcendent experience of sensitivity that can be aroused by means of any sensation whatsoever, not only through pleasure, but also through what we ordinarily think of as pain.
Sensation arises from contact or touch, illustrated by a man and woman embracing. This represents the contact between the senses and their objects. In the tantras, this powerful imagery is transformed into a passionate embrace of love, a magical dance of the awakened mind with the world perceived in its true, sacred nature. But here, while we are still concerned with very basic principles, it simply illustrates what happens whenever there is the experience of duality and a relationship exists between subject and object.
8. Six Senses
The embrace can only take place because of the existence of the six senses, depicted by a house with six windows. In Indian Buddhist tradition, the mind is considered to be a sense organ that has as its objects all the perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and so on that arise within it. So in addition to the usual five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell, the mental function is counted as the sixth.
9. Name and Form
If the six senses exist, there must be a particular living being to whom they belong. The next picture is of a boat filled with passengers, which is called name and form. Name and form together constitute the individual person. Form is the material aspect, the boat of the body, that carries us along the river of life, while name includes all the nonphysical aspects of our being (the passengers could be regarded as the different "personalities" within us). In many parts of the world, a person's name is considered to have magical significance. When we are given a name, we receive an identity; our name defines who we are. If we think of someone's name, we automatically remember his or her physical appearance and vice versa. Body cannot be separated from mind; the physical and nonphysical aspects of existence both arise from the same cause, and they reflect each other.
For a person to exist, individual consciousness is necessary. Consciousness functions through the six senses. It is what makes us aware of ourselves and divides the world into subject and object; it gives us the sense of being "I" as opposed to everything else that is not "I." Consciousness is appropriately pictured as a restless, inquisitive monkey leaping from object to object, never staying still. Sometimes the monkey is shown picking fruit from a tree, and sometimes peering out through the windows of a house-the house of the six senses.
Consciousness is not pure, direct awareness, but is produced and conditioned by the way the mind functions, so the next link in the chain is called conditioning (or formations). It refers to certain characteristic mental forces or patterns that motivate our thoughts, words, and deeds. It is here that the law of karma begins to operate. The word karma literally means "action," but generally when we speak of the law of karma, it refers to both action and its result: the universal law of cause and effect on a personal level. Everything we think, speak and do has an inevitable consequence. The Buddha taught that karma really refers to intentions, not just to actions in the literal sense. Our lives are shaped by our innermost thoughts and deepest motivations, including those on the most subtle and hidden level, which can only be discovered by profound meditation techniques. This link in the chain is symbolized by a potter making pots. In theistic religions, the image of the potter is sometimes used for God the creator, while in Buddhism the force of karma is continually creating the world anew for each living being at every moment.
But why does conditioning arise in the first place? How did the whole process ever start? The Buddha traced the root cause back to ignorance, the mind's ignorance of its own awakened nature-the final and original link in the chain. This is the farthest back we can go within the circle of samsara; this is where everything begins. Indeed, we can say that this whole cycle really has no beginning and no end, because our very notions of past, present and future are part of samsara. Ignorance is symbolized by an old blind woman, tottering about with the aid of a stick. Trungpa Rinpoche referred to her as a blind grandmother. She has given birth to generations of samsaric existence, endlessly proliferating and reproducing. Ignorance means ignoring the truth of reality, shutting one's eyes to the awakened state. Although the light of reality is ever-present, ignorance chooses to remain blind. The nature of this blindness is to believe in the existence of a separate, independent self. Trungpa Rinpoche also used to say that ignorance is very intelligent. It is actually the intelligence of samsara, which is fighting a continual battle for survival and constantly looking for ways of keeping up its own illusion, its own self-deception.
we have traced each link in the chain backward to its cause, from the suffering
of mortal life, culminating in death, all the way back to its ultimate origin,
ignorance. The whole series of pictures can also be read in reverse order, from
ignorance to death. If we do this, we can clearly see the inevitable development
of the twelve stages: ignorance, conditioning, consciousness, name and form, the
six senses, contact, sensation, thirst, grasping, existence, birth, and decay
and death. The twelve links form an unending circle. At death we fall into a state
of ignorance once more, and the cycle starts all over again. Samsara means going
on and on, round and round, without beginning or end.
Now we turn to the rest of the wheel of life. Inside the outer rim, occupying the main part of the wheel, are illustrations of the six realms of existence in samsara: the worlds of the gods, jealous gods, human beings, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell-beings. Very often only five divisions are shown, because the gods and the jealous gods are basically the same and can be classified together.
In the outer sense, the realms depict all the possible varieties of sentient life classified into these five or six main groups. They are all conditions of life into which we could be reborn. Except for those of animals and humans, the other realms are invisible to us, but they all coexist with us in an inconceivably vast, multidimensional universe.
In the inner sense, all these realms are found within our own minds. Although we have the form and psychology of human beings, we are continually going through states of mind that correspond to the other realms. In exactly the same way, gods, jealous gods, animals, hungry ghosts and hell-beings all experience the states of mind of the other realms colored by their own dominant states. Also, within each of the six realms, every living being goes through the entire cycle of the twelve links of the samsaric chain reaction.
The human realm is the most balanced and least extreme of the six, so it is easier for us to encompass the full spectrum of conditions within our experience, from the hells to the heavens. Of course, the entire wheel of life is necessarily described from the human point of view; nevertheless all life fundamentally shares the same buddhanature and is conditioned by the same forces arising from ignorance.
In some depictions of the wheel of life, the figure of a Buddha is shown in each realm. In the human realm, this is the human Buddha Shakyamuni, in each of the other realms, he appears in the form of one of its inhabitants. This indicates that the compassion of the awakened nature extends infinitely without obstructions and can manifest in any form in order to communicate with all the different types of existence, even in the extreme suffering of hell.
Moving further in toward the center of the wheel, the next section is divided into two parts: a light half in which human figures are climbing upward, and a dark half in which they are falling downward, This represents the last stage of the period between death and rebirth, during which the results of our previous actions draw us toward a higher or lower condition. The figures moving up, in the light semicircle, are on their way to taking rebirth as human beings, gods or jealous gods; those moving down, in the dark semicircle, will be reborn among animals or hungry ghosts or in one of the hells.
At the center of the wheel lie the three roots of suffering: passion, aggression and delusion, symbolized by a cock, a snake and a pig, respectively, The Buddha called them the three fires with which the whole of samsara is ablaze. Nirvana is the blowing out of their flames, a blissful state of coolness and peace after the suffering they cause (the translation of nirvana into Tibetan literally means "passed beyond suffering"). They are also known as the three afflictions, defilements, or poisons. They pervade and influence the mechanism of samsaric existence from beginning to end; they keep the whole process of dualistic experience going. They are the three basic reactions that the "I" can have when it perceives something outside itself as "other." We can be attracted to that other, wishing to possess it, control it, or take it over and make it part of ourselves: this is passion. We can reject it, push it away, or try to destroy it: this is aggression. Or we can ignore it and pretend it does not exist: this is delusion. At heart, all three reactions are attempts to overcome duality by making "I" the only thing that exists in the world, but instead they actually reinforce and perpetuate the split between "I" and "other."
The entire wheel is held in the clutches of a terrifying figure; this is Yama, the Lord of Death. His name literally means "restraint," since he is the ultimate restraint on the freedom of all living beings. He does not simply represent death in the ordinary sense, the end of life, but the very principle of mortality, which includes within itself birth and death, rebirth and re-death. Immortality, the birthless and deathless state of nirvana, lies beyond this cycle of the wheel of life.
Francesca Fremantle, Ph D., collaborated with Chögyam Trungpa on their ground-breaking 1975 translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. She is a Buddhist teacher and translator of Sanskrit and Tibetan works of Buddhist and Hindu tantra. She lives in London. This excerpt from Luminous Emptiness: Understanding the Tibetan Book of the Dead, by Francesca Fremantle. Used by permission of Shambhala Publications. © 2001 by Francesca Fremantle.
from My Heart
by Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche
Heart Jewel of the Fortunate
An Introduction to Dzogchen, the Great Perfection
Homage to my teacher!
The Great Master of Oddiyana once said:
Don't investigate the roots of things,
Investigate the root of Mind!
Once the Mind's root has been found,
You'll know one thing yet all is thereby freed.
But if the root of Mind you fail to find,
You will know everything but nothing understand.
When you start to meditate on your mind, sit up with your body straight, allowing your breath to come and go naturally, and with eyes neither closed nor wide open, gaze into the space in front of you. Think to yourself that for the sake of all beings who have been your mothers, you will watch Awareness, the face of Samantabhadra. Pray strongly to your root teacher inseparable from Padmasambhava, the Guru from Oddiyana, and then mingle your mind with his and settle in a balanced meditative state.
Once you are settled, however, you will not stay long in this empty, clear state of awareness. Your mind will start to move and become agitated. It will fidget and run here, there and everywhere, like a monkey. What you are experiencing at this point is not the nature of the mind, but only thoughts. If you stick with them and follow them, you will find yourself recalling all sorts of things, thinking about all sorts of needs, planning all sorts of activities. It is precisely this kind of mental activity that in the past has hurled you into the dark ocean of samsara. And there's no doubt that it will do the same in the future. It would be so much better if you could cut through the ever-spreading, black delusion of your thoughts!
Now, supposing you are able to break out of your chains of thoughts, what is awareness like? It is empty, limpid, stunning, light, free, joyful! It is not something bounded or demarcated by its own set of attributes. There is nothing in the whole of samsara and nirvana that it does not embrace. From time without beginning, it is inborn within us; we have never been without it, and yet it is wholly outside the range of action, effort and imagination.
But what, you will ask, is it like to recognize awareness, the face of rigpa [wisdom]? Well, although you experience it, you simply can't describe it-it would be like a dumb man trying to describe his dreams! It is impossible to distinguish between yourself resting in awareness and the awareness that you are experiencing. When you rest quite naturally, nakedly, in the boundless state of awareness, all those speedy, pestering thoughts, that would not stay quiet even for an instant-all those memories, all those plans that cause you so much trouble-lose their power. They disappear in the spacious, cloudless sky of awareness. They shatter, collapse, vanish. All their strength is lost in awareness.
You actually have this awareness within you. It is the clear, naked wisdom of dharmakaya. But who can introduce you to it? On what should you take your stand? What should you be certain of? To begin with, it is your teacher who shows you the state of your awareness. And when you recognize it for yourself, it is then that you are introduced to your own nature. Then, with the understanding that all the appearances of both samsara and nirvana are but the display of your own awareness, take your stand upon awareness alone. Just like the waves that rise up out of the sea and sink back into it, all thoughts that appear sink back into awareness. Be certain of their dissolution, and as a result you will find yourself in a state utterly devoid of both meditator and something meditated-completely beyond the meditating mind.
"Oh, in that case," you might think, "there's no need for meditation." Well, I can assure you that there certainly is a need! The mere recognition of awareness will not liberate you. Throughout your lives from beginningless time, you have been enveloped in false beliefs and deluded habits. From then until now you have spent every moment of your lives as the miserable, pathetic slave of your thoughts! And when you die, it's not at all certain where you will go. You will follow your karma, and you will have to suffer. That's the reason why you must meditate, continuously preserving the state of awareness that you have been introduced to. The omniscient Longchenpa has said: "You may recognize your own nature, but if you do not meditate and get used to it, you will be like a baby left on a battlefield: you'll be carried off by the enemy, your own thoughts!" In general terms, meditation means becoming familiar with the state of resting in the primordial, uncontrived nature, through being spontaneously, naturally, constantly mindful. It means getting used to leaving the state of awareness alone, divested of all distraction and clinging.
Now, how are we to get used to remaining in the nature of the mind? When thoughts come while you are meditating, let them come; there's no need to regard them as your enemies. When they arise, relax in their arising. On the other hand, if they don't arise, don't be nervously wondering whether they will. Just rest in their absence. If, during your meditation, big, well-defined thoughts suddenly appear, it is easy to recognize them. But when slight, subtle movements occur, it is hard to realize that they are there until much later. This is what we call namtok wogyu, the undercurrent of mental wandering. This is the thief of your meditation, so it is important for you to keep a close watch. If you can be constantly mindful, both in meditation and afterwards, when you are eating, sleeping, walking or sitting, then that's it; you've got it right!
The Great Master Guru Rinpoche has said:
A hundred things may be explained, a thousand told,
But one thing only should you grasp.
Know one thing and everything is freed-
Remain within your inner nature. Be aware!
It is also said that if you do not meditate, you will not gain certainty; if you do, you will. But what sort of certainty? If you meditate with a strong, joyful endeavor, signs will appear that show that you have got used to staying in your nature. That fierce, tight clinging that you have to phenomena, experienced dualistically, will gradually loosen up, and your obsession with happiness and suffering, hopes and fears, etc., will slowly weaken. Your devotion to the teacher and your sincere trust in his instructions will grow. After a time, your tense, dualistic attitudes will evaporate and you will get to the point where gold and pebbles, food and filth, gods and demons, virtue and non-virtue are all the same for you-you'll be at a loss to choose between paradise and hell! But in the meantime, until you reach that point (while you are still caught in the experiences of dualistic perception), virtue and non-virtue, buddhafields and hells, happiness and pain, actions and their results-all this is reality for you. As the Great Guru has said, "My view is higher than the sky, but my attention to actions and their results is finer than flour."
So it won't do to go around saying you're a Dzogchen meditator when all you are is a belching, farting lout!
It is essential for you to have a stable foundation of pure devotion and samaya, together with a strong, joyful endeavor that is well balanced, neither too tense nor too loose. If you are able to meditate, completely turning aside from the activities and concerns of this life, it is certain that you will gain the extraordinary qualities of the profound path of Dzogchen. Why wait for future lives? You can capture the primordial citadel right now, in the present.
This advice is the very blood of my heart. Hold it close and never let it go!
Advice for a Disciple
Gracious Lord of all the Buddha Families,
The nature and embodiment of every refuge,
To you, the Lotus-Born, my jeweled crown, I bow in homage!
If I were to instruct others in the excellent way, who on earth would listen? For I am wholly without discrimination and cannot be a guide even for myself! Still, you see me with pure vision and you did ask. So rather than being a disappointment, I will say a few things as they come to mind.
All success, great and small, whether in spiritual or temporal affairs, derives from your stock of merit. So never neglect even the slightest positive deed. Just do it. In the same way, don't dismiss your little faults as unimportant; just restrain yourself! Make an effort to accumulate merit: make offerings and give in charity. Strive with a good heart to do everything that benefits others. Follow in the footsteps of the wise and examine finely everything you do. Do not be the slave of unexamined fashions. Be sparing with your words. Be thoughtful rather, and examine situations carefully. For the roots of discrimination must be nourished: the desire to do all that should be done and to abandon all that should be abandoned.
Do not criticize the wise or be sarcastic about them. Rid yourself completely of every feeling of jealous rivalry. Do not despise the ignorant, turning away from them with haughty arrogance. Give up your pride. Give up your self-importance. All this is essential. Understand that you owe your life to the kindness of your parents. Therefore do not grieve them but fulfill their wishes. Show courtesy and consideration to all who depend on you. Instill in them a sense of goodness and instruct them in the practice of virtue and the avoidance of evil. Be patient with their little shortcomings and restrain your bad temper, remembering that it only takes the tiniest thing to ruin a good situation.
Do not consort with narrow-minded people, nor place your trust in new and untried companions. Make friends with honest people who are intelligent and prudent and have a sense of propriety and courtesy. Don't keep company with bad people, who care nothing about karma, who lie and cheat and steal. Distance yourself, but do it skillfully. Do not rely on people who say sweet things to your face and do the reverse behind your back.
As for yourself, be constant amid the ebb and flow of happiness and suffering. Be friendly and even with others. Unguarded, intemperate chatter will put you in their power; excessive silence may leave them unclear as to what you mean. So keep a middle course: don't swagger with self-confidence, but don't be a doormat either. Don't run after gossip without examining the truth of it. People who know how to keep their mouths shut are rare. So don't chatter about your wishes and intentions; keep them to yourself. And whether you are speaking to an enemy, an acquaintance or a friend, never break a confidence.
Be welcoming with people, and smile and talk pleasantly. And keep to your position. Be respectful towards your superiors, even when things do not go well for them. Don't scorn them. At the same time, don't bow and scrape before the vulgar, even when they are proud and full of themselves.
Be skillful in not making promises that you know you cannot keep. By the same token, honor the promises you have made, and never dismiss them as unimportant. Do not be depressed by misfortune and the failure to get what you want. Instead be careful to see where your real profit and loss lie.
All such worldly conduct, adopted with proper discrimination, will result in this life's fortune and prosperity and, so it is said, a speedy passage to the divine realms.
If, however, you want to get out of samsara completely, here is some advice that should help you on your way to liberation.
If you have no contentment, you are poor no matter how much money you have. So decide that you have enough, and rid yourself of yearning and attachment. It's a rare person indeed who knows that wealth is passing and unstable and who can therefore practice perfect generosity. For even those who do practice it, generosity is often soiled by the three impurities and is wasted, like good food mixed with poison.
Apart from the beings agonizing in hell, there is no one in samsara who does not cherish life. Now, of the seven excellencies of the higher realms, longevity is a karmic effect similar to its cause. Therefore, if you want to live long protect the lives of others; concentrate on doing this!
Cultivate faith and devotion to the Three Jewels and to your teacher! Strive in the ten virtues and combine clear intelligence with extensive learning. And nurture a sense of personal integrity and propriety with regard to others. With these seven sublime riches you will always be happy!
To gain peace and happiness for oneself is the hinayana approach of the Shravakas and Pratyekabuddhas. The altruism of bodhichitta is the path of beings of great potential. Therefore train yourself in the deeds of bodhisattvas, and do this on a grand scale! Shoulder the responsibility of freeing all beings from samsara. Of all the eighty-four thousand sections of the Buddha's teachings, there is nothing more profound than bodhichitta. Therefore make every effort on the path, uniting absolute and relative bodhichitta, which distills the essence of all the sutras and the tantras. The subduing of one's own mind is the root of dharma. When the mind is controlled, defilements naturally subside.
Do not allow yourself to become impervious and blasé with regard to the dharma; do not lead yourself astray. Let the profound dharma sink into your mind. Now that you have obtained this excellent life, so hard to find, now that you have the freedom to practice the teachings, don't waste your time. Strive to accomplish the supreme, unchanging goal. For life is passing, and there is no certainty about the time of death. Even if you are to die tomorrow, you should have confidence and be without regret.
Therefore, cultivate a real devotion for your root teacher, and love your vajra kindred, cultivating pure perception in their regard. Fortunate are those disciples who at all times keep their samaya and vows as dearly as their lives. They gain accomplishment quickly.
Ignorance, the five poisons, doubt and dualistic clinging are the roots of samsara, and the sufferings of the three realms. To this there is one antidote that removes or "liberates" everything in a single stroke. It is spontaneous wisdom, the primal wisdom of awareness. Be confident, therefore, in the generation stage: appearances, sounds and thoughts are but the primordial display of deity, mantra and primal wisdom. Then settle in the "subsequent" (anuyoga) path of the three specific perceptions, the perfection stage, the state of bliss and emptiness.
Take your stand on the ultimate practice of the Heart Essence-samsara and nirvana are the display of awareness. Without distraction, without meditation, in a state of natural relaxation, constantly remain in the pure, all-penetrating nakedness of ultimate reality.
Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-1987) was supreme head of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. Charged by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1959 with leading the Nyingma sect in exile and ensuring the preservation of its ancient tradition, he was a Dzogchen teacher to many important lamas, including the Dalai Lama himself, and played a major role in the transmission of vajrayana Buddhism to the West. Few of his teachings have until now been available in English, so we are honored to present these two talks by Dudjom Rinpoche from Counsels from My Heart, available from Shambhala Publications. From Counsels from My Heart, by Dudjom Rinpoche, © 2001.
a Good Ground for Meditation
Meditation isn't a one-way street-you can't just meditate and your life will get better. You have to change the way you live to improve your meditation. Thanissaro Bhikkhu outlines five principles of the ethical, restrained life conducive to meditation practice.
Often we like to think that simply by adding meditation to our daily schedule, the effects of the meditation will permeate our whole lives without our having to do much of anything else. Simply add the meditation to the mix of your life and it will change all the other ingredients: that's what we'd like to think, but it doesn't really work that way. You have to make your life a good place for the meditation to seep through, because some activities, some states of mind, are really resistant to receiving any influence from the meditation.
This is why, when you're a meditator, you also have to look at the way you live your life, your day-to-day activities. See if you're creating a conducive environment for the meditation to thrive and spread. Otherwise the meditation just gets squeezed into the cracks here and there, and never permeates much of anything at all.
There's a teaching in the Theravada canon on five principles that a new monk should keep in mind. These principles apply not only to new monks, but also to anyone who wants to live a life where the meditation can seep through and permeate everything.
The first principle is virtue. Make sure you stick to your precepts. In the case of monks, of course, this refers to the Patimokkha-the monastic rules. In the case of lay people, it refers to the five precepts, and on occasion the eight precepts. When you're holding to the precepts, you're holding to firm principles in your life. The Buddha described observing the precepts as a gift: a gift both to yourself and to the people around you. You give protection to other people's lives, their property, their knowledge of the truth. You protect them from your being drunk. You protect them from your engaging in illicit sex. And when these principles become precepts-in other words, a promise to yourself that you keep in all circumstances-the Buddha says that you're giving unlimited protection, unlimited safety, to other beings, and you have a share in that safety yourself.
So the precepts create an environment where there's more protection. And when there's more protection it's easier to meditate. The precepts also foster an attitude of giving. You realize that for the sake of your own happiness, you have to give. When you have that attitude, it gets easier to meditate, because all too often people come to meditation with the question, "What can I get out of this?" But if you're used to giving and seeing the good results that come from giving, you're more likely to ask, "What can I give to the meditation? What needs to be given for the good results to come?" With that attitude you're more willing to give of your time and energy in ways that you might not have been willing to before.
The second principle for creating a good environment for meditation in your life is restraint of the senses. In other words, you're not only careful about what comes out of your mind, you're also careful about what comes in, in terms of the things you look at, listen to, smell, taste, touch and think about. Be careful not to focus on things that will give rise to greed, anger or delusion. If you're careless in your looking, careless in your listening, it's very difficult to be careful about your thoughts, because thoughts are so much subtler.
This doesn't mean that you go around with blinders on your eyes or plugs in your ears; it simply means that you're skillful in how you look at things, skillful in how you listen. If you know that something tends to arouse lust or anger, learn to look at it in a way that counteracts the lust or anger. In other words, if something seems attractive, you look for its unattractive side. If something seems unattractive, you look for its attractive side. As Ajaan Lee, one of the foremost teachers of the Thai forest ascetic tradition, says, be a person with two eyes, not just one.
It's not that you shouldn't look at the body; it's just that you should look more carefully. Look at the parts that aren't attractive. This balances the one-sided view that simply focuses on a few attractive details here and there and tends to blot out everything else in order to give rise to lust. After all, it's not the body that's productive of lust. The mind produces lust. Many times the mind wants to feel lust and so it goes out looking for something to incite the lust. It grabs hold of whatever little details it can find, even when those details are surrounded by all sorts of unclean things.
So keep watch on what comes out of the mind and what comes in. For lay people, this means being careful about the friends you associate with, the magazines you read, the TV you watch, the music you listen to. After a while you find that this is not a case of restricting yourself so much as it is learning to see things more carefully, more fully. Now you're seeing both sides of things that used to seem solely attractive or solely unattractive.
This takes some effort. You have to be more energetic in watching how you look and listen. But the benefit is that the mind is in much better shape to meditate because you're not filling it up with all kinds of stuff that's going to harm it, weaken it or get in the way. So many times when you sit down to meditate, if you've been careless about what's been coming in and out of your mind, you find it's like cleaning out a shed after a year of neglect. There's so much garbage in there that you spend almost the whole hour cleaning it out and then realize you have only five minutes for any real stillness at the end. So keep the mind clean from the beginning, all the time. Don't let any garbage in the door or in the windows. That way you find you have a much nicer place to settle in when you create your meditation home.
The third principle for creating a good environment for meditation is restraint in conversation. When I first went to stay with my teacher, Ajaan Fuang, he said that lesson number one in meditation is keeping control of your mouth. In other words, before you say anything, ask yourself: "Is this necessary? Is this beneficial? Is there a good reason to say this?" If there is, then go ahead and say it. If not, then just keep quiet. As he said, if you can't control your mouth there's no way that you're going to control your mind. And when you make a habit of asking yourself these questions, you find that very little conversation is necessary. If you're at work and you need to talk to your fellow workers in order to create a good atmosphere in the office, O.K., that counts as necessary speech. But so often social-grease speech goes beyond that. You start getting careless, running off at the mouth, and that turns into idle chatter, which is not only a waste of energy but also a source of danger. Often the things people say that cause the most harm are when they're just allowing whatever comes into their mind to go right out their mouth without any restraint at all.
If observing this principle means that you gain a reputation for being a quiet person, well that's fine. You find that your words, if you're more careful about doling them out, start taking on more worth. And at the same time you're creating a better atmosphere for your mind. After all, if you're constantly chattering all day long, how are you going to stop the mental chatter when you sit down to meditate? But if you develop this habit of watching over your mouth, the same habit then comes to apply to the meditation. All those mouths in your mind start going still.
The fourth principle for creating a good environment for meditation in your life is finding some solitude. There you can get a sense of perspective on your life so that what's going on in your mind can stand out in bolder relief. Try to find as much solitude as you can. It's good for you. When people have trouble living in solitude it shows that there's lots of unfinished business inside.
So make a little solitary place in your home. Turn off the TV, turn out the lights, and allow yourself to be alone without a lot of distractions. Tell everyone you need to have a little time alone on a regular basis. When you do this, you find that things submerged in the depths of your mind come up to the surface-and it's only when they come up to the surface that you can deal with them. When you're without a lot of outside input, the mind will tend to stay with the meditation more easily. There may be a lot of mental chatter at first, but after a while you get fed up with it. You prefer just to be quiet. At the same time, you get away from the influence of everybody else's thoughts and everybody else's opinions. You are forced to ask yourself, "What do I really believe? What are my opinions? What's important to me when I'm not swayed by the opinions of others?"
This leads to the fifth principle, which is to develop right view. Right view has two levels. First, there's belief in the principle of karma-that what you do really does have results. And you have to acknowledge that it really is you acting; it's not some outside force acting through you, not the stars or some god. You're making the decisions and you have the ability to make them skillfully or not.
It's important to believe in this principle, because this is what gives more power to your life. It's an empowering belief-but it also involves responsibilities. This is why you have to be so careful in what you do, why you can't be heedless. When you're careful about your actions, when the time comes to meditate it's easier to be careful about your mind.
As for the second level of right view, the transcendent level, that means seeing things in terms of the four noble truths-stress and suffering, the cause of stress and suffering, the cessation of stress and suffering, and the path of practice to that cessation. Just look at the whole range of your experience: instead of dividing it up into its usual patterns of "me and not me," simply look to see where there is suffering and stress. Ask, "What am I doing that gives rise to that stress? Can I let go of that activity? And what qualities do I need to develop, what things do I need to let go of, in order to let go of the craving, the ignorance underlying the stress? When I drop craving, can I be aware of what's happening?" All too often when we drop one craving we simply pick up another. "Can I make myself more aware of that space in between the cravings, and expand that space? What's it like to have a mind without craving?"
According to the Buddha, it's important to see things in this way because if you identify everything in terms of yourself, how can you possibly understand anything for what it actually is? If you hold on to suffering as yourself, how can you understand suffering? If you look at it simply as suffering without putting this label of "self" on it, then you can start seeing it for what it is and then learn how to let it go. If it's yourself, if you hold to the belief that it's yourself, you can't let go of it. But looking at things in terms of the four noble truths allows you to solve the whole problem of suffering.
So start looking at your whole life in this light. Instead of blaming your sufferings on people outside, look at what you're doing to create that suffering and focus on dealing with that first. When you develop this attitude in everyday life, it's a lot easier to apply it to the meditation. You create the environment where it makes more and more sense to stick to the noble path.
Whether you're a new monk living in a monastery or a lay person living outside the monastery, these are the factors that create the environment for meditation: you want to stick to the precepts, keep restraint over the senses, practice restraint over your conversation, create quiet, secluded places for yourself, and develop right view. When you follow these principles, they create a conducive environment for concentration, as well as a receptive environment that allows the results of concentration to permeate your surroundings. This way your practice, instead of being forced into the cracks of a hostile, alien environment, has room to grow and to transform everything around it.
Ajahn Thanissaro is abbot of the Metta Forest Monastery in San Diego County, California. He is the author of Wings to Awakening and Mind Like Fire Unbound.
You Want To Be a Buddhist?
By Daniel Menaker
Who doesn't? It's easy and also fun, especially if like me and most Americans who enjoy relaxing on the deck and talking about Buddhism you know very little about it. I mean the kind of people who when you get a little ticked at them for breaking the gears of the bicycle they borrowed from you yesterday say, "Could you please try to be a little more Buddhist about this?" or when they wonder if there really is such a thing as reincarnation hope to come back as a wealthy beagler.
The first thing you have to do is renounce desire. But since you want to renounce desire, that's desire in and of itself! So renounce the desire to renounce desire and you can do whatever you please, like try to get back in good with your old girlfriend Tawnee, plus become an ipso facto Buddhist at the same time. Sweet, no? And the real Buddhists can't object, because they are enjoined to universal kindliness and have to keep on grinning that real-Buddhist grin.
The next thing you have to do is decide on whether you're going to say "BOOdist," "BUUHdist" (rhymes with "WOODist"), or "BUDDist" (rhymes with "FUDDist" and also "DUDDist"). I have to say that for my money the first sounds low-rent, kind of Casper the Ghost, and the last sounds a little floral and also could be heard as "BUTTist," so the second it is, even though in order to say it that way you have to purse your lips in a sissy manner.
OK-you're well on your way. The next thing you have to do is know some terminology or pretend to know it, so that you can use it when the conversational waters get heavy.
Dharma: This is a great word to use in practically any sentence of gravity because it has so many meanings (I think). It's something good, a good quality of a person or a regulation of how you act, if I'm not mistaken. When an NBA star, especially one of the very tall ones, reads to any group of fetching or marginal or, especially, reviled illiterate people, that is a possible example of dharma in action. If you're still not sure what it means, be serene, be a Buddhist about it, and that could well be dharma in action, too. Helpful hint: The "h" in "dharma" is silent-and a good thing, too.
Karma: This is the most-said amateur-Buddhist word by a long shot. You can apply it to absolutely anything that happens to a person. For instance, if you enjoy infomercials and decide to order Moving Men, those plastic discs with discs of orange foam set in them that you put furniture legs on so that you can push or pull heavy items from room to room, that becomes part of your karma, and might be one of the reasons you come back in your next life as a dray horse. "Karma" will fit an infinite number of occasions but is best used sparingly, lest it deteriorate into a synonym for "whatever." To summarize: karma is the things you choose to do but don't have any choice about, like throwing down with Tawnee and then not spending the night-it's free will and fate all rolled into one hell of a complex concept, and if you don't get it, that's part of your karma, too.
Note: Karma can be troubling to those who are tempted by more practical-seeming theories of causation. Let's say you get pneumonia, God forbid. "It's your karma," a dilettante (and for all I know a real) Buddhist might say. "It's your staphylococcus," a doctor might say. But you can't beat karma, I'm afraid, because it's one of those oceanic ideas that drowns everything else, as in "It's your karma to have your staphylococcus."
Reincarnation: It gets really tricky when you add to the pneumonia example that the staphylococcus in question might be the reincarnation of Nero or Senator Joseph McCarthy. Yes, it's true, from all reports I've heard: Buddhism holds that after you die you come back as someone else or an animal or even an animalcule. But you're still you, if you and your past incarnations see what I and mine mean. If you have good compounded karma from past lives and your present life, you come back on a higher plane-like the previous incarnations who are now Derek Jeter and Diane Sawyer. If you were rotten, you might be a vole or an asp or a dung beetle.
Questions: Do you come back as yourself if your life has been a karmic wash? Or is there a tiebreaker or sudden-death overtime? Wouldn't it be awful to come back and realize you're still Trent Lott? Wouldn't it be cool to start over again with Tawnee (assuming she doesn't come back as a millipede, as she deserves to, for dumping you, even though it's true that you didn't take your socks off and then ran out on her that night)?
Meditation: You sit quietly in a certain position and breathe in a certain way and try to empty your mind, all as part of the effort to renounce desire and seek the enlightenment that will bolster your standing in the karma league. It also really helps in the effort to get your thoughts off Tawnee.
Akimcanyayata: "Atayaynacmika" spelled backward.
That's right-that's the definition of nirvana (which is what you are striving to achieve as a Buddhist), as I understand it: a big fat nothing. You get so enlightened, your desire is in such giga-renunciation, that you don't have to be reincarnated anymore, at least if you don't want to be. You are obliterated, released from the cycle of pain and suffering. No more 932 combined SAT scores, no more running out of cold beer, no more hold music, no more caramelized reductions and eggplant coulis, no more big electronic highway signs that tell you how fast you're going, no more irritable bowel syndrome, no more pining for Tawnee, no more Chuck Norris reruns, no more copy-center jobs, no more silage combustion, no more air turbulence, no more periodontics, no more "funny" lists. No more post-coital escape panics.
No more coition, either. Hmmm. No more ruby-throated hummingbirds, no more whoever Alison Krauss comes back as, no more soft-serve ice-cream, no more first kisses, no more boogie-boarding, no more finding a cold beer in the fridge, no more throwing down with anyone whatsoever ever, no more homecomings. No more whatever the future holds in store: teleportation holidays, mansions created from utility fog and nanotechnology swarms, invisibility. No second chance with Tawnee.
If you were a Buddhist, I guess it would be up to you, and not.
Daniel Menaker is an executive editor at HarperCollins and the author of two collections of stories and a novel, The Treatment.
From "So You Want to Be a Buddhist?" by Daniel Menaker. Shambhala Sun, January 2003.
Should Not Waste this Opportunity
Khenpo Chodrak Rinpoche talks about the Precious Human Body
Having what we call a "precious human body" means that one has been born as a human and provided with certain freedoms and assets. Not only must one have the physical preconditions needed for Dharma practice, but also one must have a mind which includes the three different kinds of confidence.
"Freedoms" in this context means that one is not completely preoccupied by other things. If, for example, one is born in realms of existence which contain much suffering, one will be so thoroughly engrossed by those circumstances that there will not be the smallest chance to practice the Dharma or devote time to other positive things.
In this context, the Buddha explained about the eight different realms of existence without freedom for practice. He explained it in a way which corresponds to the way people were thinking at that time. Today, however, we should understand that these realms are not to be seen as specific places, but rather as sorts of experiences beings can have as a result of the ripening of their own karma.
THE EIGHT FREEDOMS
The first three of the eight states of mind the Buddha explained are the three lower realms of existence: the paranoia realm, the ghost realm, and the animal realm.
Experiencing these kinds of existences, we either suffer so intensely that we are not able to do anything else, or our mind is simply not clear enough to work with the Dharma in any way.
In some sutras the Buddha describes these states of mind in a way that indicates they might be worlds similar to ours. These explanations corresponded to the idea people had about our world at the time and were given especially to the Shravaka practitioners - followers of the vehicle of the "listeners."
Yet, if we think about these paranoia states, we will see that they cannot possibly mean an actual place, since it is said that there is burning metal everywhere. If we question that - asking who is burning the metal and what material is being used for the fire etc. - we see that they cannot literally exist in the way they are described. Rather, it is that every individual being, having the karma for that kind of existence, experiences it as totally real. It is the special way the mind of those beings, being confused and deluded, makes them experience themselves in the middle of a hell.
Still, even if it is not a "real" world in that sense, as long as one has the karma to endure this state, the suffering experienced will not cease. Completely caught by the illusion, one is not able to just change it. One really thinks one is in a hell realm and suffers accordingly. Due to this severe suffering it is not possible to contemplate the meaning of Dharma let alone practice it. Even if one wanted to, it would be impossible.
On the other hand, there are states of mind where the experience of happiness and joy is so intense, that one does not come to think about practice. This is the god realm.
There are different levels of gods in the desire, the form, and the formless realm. Within the desire realm there are six different kinds of existence, one of which is called the god realm. A rebirth in this realm is the result of the accumulation of a huge amount of good karma. Due to this good karma, one experiences immense happiness and joy and is entirely distracted by it. One wants to take pleasure in all these states and suffers not the smallest discomfort. Not enduring any kind of distress, one does not consider trying to get out of this state. Being that happy, one thinks this is sufficient and has no motivation to practice the Dharma.
The form realm and the formless realm are the results of meditation. If one is attached to pleasant feelings while doing calm abiding meditation, one can end up being entirely caught by the enjoyment of these states. Remaining in this state of deep meditation one does not feel attracted by outer objects any more, but is completely distracted by inner joy. Not experiencing any unpleasant feelings, mind becomes very peaceful and has no motivation to change.
However, even in the human realm there are states without the opportunity for practicing the Dharma. For instance, being born at a place where people do not have the slightest idea about positive and negative actions, one cannot follow a good path and avoid a bad one. These are the cases of primitive societies, where barbarian types live who might be human beings, but do not always behave as such.
Other people might be born as humans, yet they are so completely caught in their wrong views (those opposing the Dharma) that they are also not able to practice. There are, for example, people who believe that animal sacrifices have to be performed because they are convinced that killing animals can lead to liberation. Wrong views are quite a serious problem, since they not only keep one from practicing the Dharma, but might even lead one to practice a negative path. It is therefore a big obstacle for practice to be caught in wrong views.
Others again are born mentally disabled. They do not have the ability to understand the meaning of Dharma by listening to teachings. Even if such a person gets advice about what should be done and what should be avoided, it does not make sense to him or her. He or she simply cannot understand it. The Tibetan word for such a person is "Kungpa." Even though the term is used for deaf and mute people as well, in this context it mainly means mental disability. The capacity for these people to understand is very limited and they cannot differentiate between good things to do and bad things to be avoided.
Finally, it is possible to be born in an era where no buddhas appear and where the Buddhist teachings are completely unknown.
There are different periods in the evolution of a universe we call "kalpas" or eons. In between the manifestations of historical Buddhas there are the so-called "dark eons" where no Buddha appears. To be born in such a period means that one cannot connect with the Dharma and has consequently no chance to practice. To have the "eight freedoms" means not to be born in one of these eight states.
THE TEN ASSETS
Yet, there are more conditions needed to practice the Dharma. These are the ten kinds of richness or the ten assets. Here, we distinguish two groups of five assets. One depends on oneself, the second depends on others.
" The first condition is that one is a fully equipped human being, intact and functioning well as either a man or a woman.
" One has to be able to meet a Dharma teacher and ask him or her for teachings.
" Having received the teachings, one has to have the capability to practice the Dharma.
" One must not be physically or mentally disabled to an extent that prevents Dharma practice.
" One must not have committed one of the five extremely negative actions. As a result of these - wounding a buddha, killing an arhat, killing one's father or mother or splitting the sangha - it would be very difficult to attain any level of realization in this life. These actions are simply too negative.
Besides these five conditions related to oneself, there are five more conditions related to others:
" A historical Buddha must have manifested in this world.
" This Buddha must have taught.
" The teachings must still be accessible today.
" There must still be teachers to pass on those teachings.
" The teachers must be able to teach the Dharma appropriately - that is to say with compassion.
Being born as a human provided
with these ten assets is the best presupposition to practice the Dharma.
THE PRECIOUS HUMAN REBIRTH
Since this kind of rebirth is the most favorable for practicing the Dharma, it is called the "precious human rebirth." The Tibetan term "rinpoche" means "precious" or "jewel." It is used here to describe the human body, since it is in fact very precious and very difficult to get. Once it is obtained, possessing so many qualities, it is of inestimable value.
This is why this kind of rebirth is called the "precious human rebirth" - having a human body which we can use in the right way to attain enlightenment. The reason for it being so difficult to obtain is that the main precondition is correct behavior. To be born as a human being, one has to have avoided the ten negative actions in past lives. Looking around however, we will see that there are actually not so many people who have abandoned negative actions. Compared to an ordinary human body, a "precious" human body is yet more difficult to obtain. Having the opportunity to practice the Dharma in this life is not the result of just good conduct, but comes from strong and consciously made wishes to be reborn in that way, which makes one able to develop and practice.
Examining how many humans there are compared to animals is easy. It is possible, for example, and not too difficult, to count the population of a country. If, on the contrary, one wants to count the vast amount of animals, it is impossible. They are innumerable. This gives us an idea of how few human beings there are compared to the number of animals.
Moreover, looking at how few people meet the eighteen conditions - the eight freedoms and ten assets to practice the Dharma, we see how rare this opportunity is. Taking a big city with five million inhabitants as an example, if only one thousand or ten thousand of them would practice the Dharma, it would be a lot. Yet this is probably nowhere near the case. This alone shows us how rare the precious human body is. Looking at the enormous world population and considering the number of people who stopped committing the ten negative actions, not only among Buddhists but among practitoners of all religions and those who do not follow any religion, they are few compared to the total number of people living in the world. If, then, we look at how many people know how to make wishes for the benefit of all beings, there are also not many.
Considering these facts, we become aware of how fortunate and lucky we are; being humans we are in a situation where we can practice the Dharma. So we can understand how extremely rare this chance is. This should encourage us to lead our lives in a sensible way and decide not to waste this opportunity, since it is, as mentioned before, extraordinarily difficult to obtain.
We should be aware how truly powerful our present existence is and try to use it to attain enlightenment in this life. If we do a good job, though not necessarily the best, we can become bodhisattvas in this life. If we do not so well we can become Pratyekabuddhas.1 If we are not able to do that, we might still practice the path of accumulation and junction.2 At least we should try not to waste this life, but instead use it in the best possible way. With this in mind, we can surely avoid stepping back in our development and be able to hold our level or develop even further. That shows how powerful our situation is. We should really appreciate that.
Shantideva explained this using the following example of a master and a servant. If the master pays fair wages and treats the servant well, the servant will be happy and do a good job. This in turn helps the master as well. On the contrary, if the master treats his servant poorly, the servant will naturally work less, and the master will not make a profit.
Similarly, we should treat ourselves well so later we will find ourselves in good physical condition and be able to develop our minds positively.
We should not waste any time. Instead, we should practice the Dharma now and do not postpone it, since we can at any time die and lose this opportunity. From the moment of birth we steadily approach death. There is no certainty about when we will die. Death can be caused by all kinds of conditions and we do not know when it will happen. Inevitably, death comes closer every single moment. Due to this fact, this very moment is so important and we should make the best use of our time here and now.
THE THREE DIFFERENT KINDS OF CONFIDENCE
To be able to practice, we need the eighteen conditions defining the precious human body and have to develop the right kind of confidence. This sort of confidence - sometimes called faith or devotion, "dapa" in Tibetan - is again classified into three different kinds of confidence:
" the confidence of conviction,
" the confidence of wish or aspiration, and
" the confidence of openness or of true faith.
The basis of any kind of confidence is conviction. The first kind of confidence is the most important one, since it is developed through clear argumentation. One should not follow anything with blind faith, but there should be a convincing reason. As a proof to the contrary, one can look at Islam. The Muslims claim that Allah - living in a kind of paradise in a golden house with seven floors - proclaimed that the teachings have to be spread and therefore his followers have to fight a holy war. Everybody taking part in this holy war and killing other people will surely be reborn in paradise. Blindly believing this, without any convincing reason, millions of people can be misled.
The Buddha always gave the advice not to follow a teacher for his charisma but to check his teachings first. By scrutinizing the teachings, one will find out whether they are correct and, if this is the case, one can follow them. If for example, one buys gold, one would also check whether it is really gold. The Dharma has the quality that the more one analyzes it, the more one will be sure that it is right. Yet, the Buddha also stressed the importance of everybody finding this out for themselves.
As one is convinced by the teachings, the second kind of confidence follows automatically: one wishes to attain enlightenment oneself. One sees that it is the right thing and wants to get there.
The third kind of confidence requires the mastery of the pure view and the understanding of the qualities of enlightenment. If all these conditions come together, the eighteen conditions for the right kind of rebirth, the mental conditions as well as the three kinds of confidence, this is a perfect situation for truly successful Dharma practice. Hence, one can develop the right motivation, that is to say, to use the Dharma for the benefit of other beings, and encounter no obstacles on the way.
1Prathyekabuddhas, "Self Victorious," claim not to have a teacher and make wishes to become enlightened without a teacher.
2The fife paths: path of accumulation, path of junction, path of seeing, path of cultivation, path of no more learning - a description for the progressive spiritual development until enlightenment.
BUDDHISM TODAY, Vol.3, 1997
Copyright ©1997 Kamtsang Choling USA