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Archive for May, 2013

What is the difference between telling the truth and telling a lie?  For some this may be difficult to discern because lying has become such a staple in their lives that they cannot tell the difference between it and the truth.  A friend of mine used to say “the truth would have served her better.”  But alas, the truth was not told.

Dictionary.com defines it thus: “a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood.” We have even divided up our lies into categories and given them different names.  Let’s say we’ve got the following list:

  • white lies
  • outright lies
  • bold-faced lies
  • deceitful lies
  • malicious lies
  • exaggerations
  • deceptions
  • plagiarism
  • the beneficial lies

The last on the list is written about in Reb Anderson’s book Being Upright Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts (2001).[1]  He takes what is called the “beneficial lie” and relates it to the person during World War II in Nazi occupied Europe who lied about a person’s whereabouts in order to keep them from being imprisoned and/or put into a concentration camp.  From there he says,

In the practice of the Bodhisattva precepts, our ultimate concern is for the welfare of all beings.  We therefore extend the meaning of ‘not lying’ to include ‘not speaking in a false or harmful way, or standing by in silence when others speak in a false or harmful way.’  All speech based on self-concern is false or harmful speech, and speaking the truth naturally arises from selflessness. (122).

This really simplifies the list above doesn’t it!  Boy that makes it much easier for me than trying to determine whether what I’ve just said is on the list. All I have to do is ask myself—is what I am saying based on self-concern or on the concern for another.  If it is based on “concern for another” then I am apt to be going in the right direction as I travel the bodhisattva way of living. If it is not then I need to think before I say the words and choose words that show my concern for another rather than for me.

Next, he talks about the times when “speaking the truth” can get us in trouble and he says, “Buddha said that you should not speak the truth when it is harmful, but we need to distinguish between what is harmful and what is hurtful.  Sometimes people tell you the truth and it hurts a lot, but it is very helpful  (page 125).”

I remember a time in my life when my nephew was about five or six years old and he was pushing his younger sister and my brother-in-law ran over and told him he was a bad boy and to stop pushing his sister.  But I did not want him to think badly of himself at such a young age so I took him aside and told him that he was not a “bad boy” that he was a “good boy” but his behavior toward his sister was not good and could hurt her if she fell down.  I made the clear distinction between him and his actions and what was actually “bad.”  I doubt that my words stopped him from pushing his sister in the future, but I hope that they helped minimize his negative self-thinking in the future.

My brother-in-law’s comments were “harmful” and I hope mine would be considered somewhat “hurtful” but something he needed to hear to help him grow into a more loving caring adult.   I am happy to say that he has!

What harmful or hurtful things have you said this day?  Reb talks about “right speech” in the community or sangha.  He says, “ . . . it generates trust and harmony within the community and becomes a strong support for others’ liberation.  . . .when members of the sangha speak falsely or act in a way that encourages others to use false speech, it brings about a deterioration of trust among people in the community and undermines the practice of liberation (page 126).”  What happens at the Sangha is exactly what happens at your home, office, or school.  Life plays out the same in all ways and in all places.

So let’s take a look at our self and use this week to practice not telling lies.  Let us focus less on self-concern and more on selflessness and doing good for all others through our words and actions as we follow the bodhisattva way.

Things to focus on this week:

  •  Step one: Begin by deciding how you will refrain from false speech and focus on right speech instead.
  • Step two: Set your intention to do so before each possible encounter.
  • Step three: Remember to be mindful of being upright in all you do and do not harm others with your false speech.
  • Step four: Finally, keep a journal on the precept and make note of how learning to embody truth in all its aspects thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!

[1] Anderson, R. 2001, Being Upright Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts. Rodmell Press: Berkeley, CA

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In a culture where almost everything is sold around “sex” whether it is toothpaste, cars, clothes, furniture, houses, or hair dye we have been misusing sexuality.  When studying and practicing The Ten Grave Precepts students of Zen are invited to take a look at their sexuality and decide what it means to them, how they use it, and how its use affects themselves and those around them.

Reb Anderson in his wonderful book Being Upright (2001) has a beautiful chapter entitled “NOTHING IS WISHED FOR: Not Misusing Sexuality.”  He talks about various ideas from sexual greed to sexual imagery, energy, and intimacy.  He describes it in one paragraph as—

. . .dancing in perfect harmony with the rhythms of our sexual passion. Eventually, the time comes when a human being appears before you as a brilliant and shinning god or goddess, acting as a mirror reflecting your wholeness.  This reflection reveals the dazzling promise of orgasmic unity and the bliss of the complete integration of your whole being (page 118).

When I read this passage it brought back to me a time many years ago when I had a lucid dream about my partner and we were both walking through a doorway, he coming from one side and me from the other.  The doorway was too small for us to pass by without touching and yet neither of us wanted to wait for the other so we both proceeded and our ethereal bodies slowly merged into one and from the top of my head to the tips of my toes I felt the energy—you might say it was a super orgasmic lucid dream from which I did not want to awaken.   But now these many years later I realized that is exactly what Reb was talking about in this chapter.  The merging of the “rhythms of our sexual passion” was “reflecting each others wholeness” and not as separate individuals but as one.

This is how we are taught to live in Zen Buddhism—as “One” with everything.  Regardless of where we are or what we are doing when we focus on the person or the object not as “the other” or something “separate” from us then we are practicing the Bodhisattva way.

I was counseled many years ago by a Unity minister friend of mine, Edwene Gaines, not to sleep with anyone whose consciousness I did not want to own.  I did not understand it very well then, but now I do.  She understood that when you had sex with someone you became one with them, as Reb speaks about, and that his or her energy—good or bad—enters you and yours enters them and you share thoughts, emotions, dreams and more.  Ask yourself before the encounter is this someone I would want to merge with.  Are his or her thoughts, energies, and emotions similar to mine?  Is the person filled with peace, love, compassion, and kindness? These are simple but tough questions to ask and to answer.

Remember Reb says it is a “mirror reflecting your wholeness.”  Is this person’s wholeness the wholeness you want to embrace and make your own?

In the end of the chapter he closes by saying he compares it to sitting Zazen which he calls “sitting upright.”

The world of sex is sitting upright, too.  Whenever you do anything with complete warmth and devotion, it is the same.  Creating a work of art, cooking a meal, or cleaning house: any action of body, speech, or mind, when done in this spirit of complete devotion, without imagining anything else, and without the slightest separation between yourself and the task, is the same.  This is immaculate sexuality (page 121).

This is not the sexuality we see on TV in the ads, or in the movies, or soap operas.  This is the sex that was illustrated in this joke that I heard many years ago.  A young married couple is having sex and in the middle of her husband’s organism the woman opens her eyes, looks up and says, “hmmm.  I think we should paint the ceiling pink, don’t you?”

Today and everyday I see you dancing in perfect harmony with the rhythms of your sexual passion as you recognize your oneness with all there is.

Things to focus on this week:

  •  Step one: Begin by deciding how you will refrain from misusing sexuality this week.
  • Step two: Set your intention to do so before each possible encounter.
  • Step three: Remember to be mindful of being upright in all you do and do not misuse sexuality.
  • Step four: Finally, keep a journal on the precept and make note of how learning to embody it in thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!

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Such a moon—

Even the thief

Pauses to sing.

–Buson

There is a thief in all of us to some degree or other.  Some of us are good at stealing time from our family, friends, and co-workers by asking of them things we should not ask.  We steal time from our day when we could be sitting in quiet meditation, or volunteering our time at a local food bank, charity, or senior center.  Most things when they are stolen can be returned either by the person giving it back, the police finding it and returning it, or by buying a new one to replace it—but not so with time.  Once it is stolen it is gone forever.

Even the thief was wise enough to stop and spend some time admiring the moon.  In Zen we are particularly conscious of time and often look at it as never ending and eternal and now.  We cannot go back in time to recover the lost item or relationship and we cannot jump into the future to catch up with it.  The only thing we can do is be mindful and live in the now moment to the best of our ability.

We can steal dreams from our children when we hinder them from being truly who they are–by not allowing them to follow their hearts to where their dreams wish to take them.  I knew a man when I was young who sold shoes, he sold shoes because his father and his grandfather sold shoes, but in his dreams he was an artist: he thought like an artist, dreamt like an artist, and probably even sold shoes like an artist.  Then one day he told me that he had quit his job and was running away from home to BE an artist.  I wished him luck and knew his dream had been reclaimed like we do with the ticket we take back to the shoe repair shop to reclaim our newly soled shoes.  We walk out of that shop filled with dreams of wearing those shoes, dancing in those shoes, and maybe even getting a kiss under “such a moon” from that comely young man round the corner.

You may have stolen other things from someone, things I cannot mention out loud but that was in the past and today is a new day, with a new moon, and you may want to pause to peer at its beauty like a thief in the night stealing back a dream hoping that in the dawn it will reappear and manifest in your life.

My 92-year-old mother wrote a poem about the moon when she was nine years old.  As she walked from the farmhouse to the outhouse before bedtime she looked up at the pitch black sky with the billions of stars and her heart was stolen by the beauty and joy of the moon.  Here is what she wrote:

I can see the old moon

As he rocks in the sky

With a bean for a nose

And a rock for an eye.

Up up he goes into the blue sky

I can see him wrinkle his nose

And twinkle his eye.

–Iona Louise Bishop

Today is a wonderful day to see how your senses can be stolen by something or someone you love.  How about stealing some time away from the to-do list to sit and meditate?  How about looking to steal some time away from your rambling thoughts, anxieties, and fears by being mindful of your next meal?  I mean really mindful.  To really eat it, every bit of it and enjoy every sound, scent, and feel of it.

Tonight I hope you will steal some time to take a walk outside and as you look up at the evening sky let me know if you can see the old moon with that “twinkle” in his eye!

Things to focus on this week:

Step one: Begin by deciding which area of “stealing” you will focus on first.

  • Step two: Set your intention to practice that one throughout the day/week.
  • Step three: Remember to be mindful of it by writing it on a 3×5 notecard, or by putting it in your smartphone and having it remind you throughout the day.
  • Step four: Remind yourself to listen to your thoughts and observe your behaviors to see if you are practicing the principle of “not stealing.”
  • Step five: Finally, keep a journal on the precept of “not stealing” and make note of how learning to embody it in thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!

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These two simple words “not killing” provide us with ample opportunity to think about their meaning and their purpose as we work on Grave Precept #1.  There is no measure long enough to take us to the end of the ideas that have been written on this subject.  Throughout antiquity all religions and philosophies have grappled with it.  But that will not stop us from embarking on this challenge for a week and seeing where it leads us.

Of course, we do not want to kill anyone or anything—that is a given.  But how does “not killing” work when we kill bugs in the house or the garden.  How does it work when we take the weeds from that same garden?  Does the precept cover killing people with our angry and hateful words and leaving them feeling as though they have been “sliced into bits” by our tongue?  Have your thoughts about yourself killed your ambition, your love for another, your attitude about life?  Does that violate the precept of “not killing”?

Some take on a life of vegetarianism because of this precept.  However, there are many sides to this precept of which we may not be aware. “The Buddha did not prescribe vegetarianism.   Buddhist monks are permitted to eat meat, for example, if it is put in their alms bowl by a lay supporter.  They are not permitted, however, to eat an animal that has been killed on their behalf.[1]  For some this may sound like splitting hairs, that’s for sure, but it is true.

So, to help us out let’s go to our wonderful teacher Robert Aitken’s book, The Mind of Clover Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics (1984), and let’s see the light that he sheds on this subject.

There are three elements that the Zen teacher uses in conveying the precepts: the literal, the compassionate, and the essential, or, as they are more technically termed: the Hinayana, the Mahayana, and the Buddha-nature views. 

The Hinayana view of “Not Killing” is just that. The extreme limit of such literal interpretation is not Buddhist at all, but the Jain faith, whose monks filter all water before drinking it, in order to protect the microscopic animals that might otherwise be swallowed (page16).[2]

So it seems that the Jain faith’s influence on Buddhism took them to a very extreme “literal” interpretation of this precept.  So how about the “compassionate” view of this subject?  What would that look like?  Is it compassionate to kill, let’s say, ants when they are taking over your kitchen?

Some years ago I went to see a monk from the Self-realization Fellowship speak in Miami.  He was a student of Paramahansa Yogananda and during his talk he took questions from the audience and so, of course, someone asked about the idea of “not killing.”  He shared a story with us about going down early one morning to prepare breakfast for the monks and all over the counter were ants.  So he chanted and he prayed and nothing worked.  He did not want to prepare the food and get ants into it so he said his last resort was the ant spray.  He illustrated what he did by making believe he had a large can of ant spray in his hand spraying it across the counter as he chanted: Ohm, ohm—You  are now going to your next level of higher consciousness—ohm …ohm.  Everyone laughed and we all got the point.  He went beyond the literal interpretation and somewhere between the compassionate (for the monks) and an essential teaching of Buddha and eating meat if offered as an Alm.

Where will you take your thoughts and practice this week on the idea of “not killing”? For some you may want to focus some time on not killing your own motivation and self-esteem, others may want to be careful of their words and actions that may be directed toward others that kills their love and affection, some may want to focus on food, and yet others may want to concentrate on working with groups that focus on getting rid of the death penalty or stopping wars and the like.  But whatever you choose be aware of what you say, do, and think on all three levels: literal, compassionate, and essential.  Keep asking yourself, “What would the Buddha say or do in this situation?”

And may the “force” be with you on your path of “not killing”!

Things to focus on this week:

Step one: Begin by deciding which area of “not killing” you will focus on first.

Step two: Set your intention to practice that one throughout the day/week.

Step three: Remember to be mindful of it by writing it on a 3×5 notecard, or by putting it in your smartphone and having it remind you throughout the day.

Step four: Remind yourself to listen to your thoughts and observe your behaviors to see if you are practicing the principle of “not killing.”

Step five: Finally, keep a journal on the precept of “not killing” and make note of how learning to embody it in thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!


[2] Aitken, R. (1984) The Mind of Clover Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics. North Point Press, NY

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When looking around the internet for information on The Ten Grave Precepts I came across a wonderful analogy used by the San Francisco Zen Center on their website and it said, “They are the strands of Indra’s Net.”[1]  With those words came a beautiful picture into my mind of a large fishing net with each strand being one of the precepts each linked with the other divided by a button holding them together throughout time and space. As you can see this still allows for the movement of energy and light from precept to precept through each of the button holes.

The Ten Grave Precepts are as follows:

A Disciple of the Buddha

  1. …does not kill.
  2. …does not steal.
  3. …does not misuse sexuality.
  4. …does not lie.
  5. …does not cloud the mind.
  6. …does not speak of the faults of others.
  7. …does not elevate the self and blame others.
  8. …is not possessive of anything.
  9. …does not harbor ill will.
  10. …does not disparage the three treasures.

I will take one of these at a time and share my thoughts on how they work in my life and how I hope, when practiced, they can work in yours.

Buddhism is not a philosophy that is meant to be discussed at Starbucks with a Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino® and Biscotti.  It is a philosophy to live by.  To take into each moment of your life and use, to make your life move more slowly, more pointedly, more lovingly, more happily, and finally more mindfully.  I am not saying that as a student of Buddhism it would be inappropriate to enjoy that Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino® and Biscotti.  Just remember to enjoy it slowly, happily, and lovingly!  And of course mindfully!

The way of “right” living does not mean right as in the opposite of wrong.  But in fact more like good, helpful, kind, or thoughtful living.  It is living a life that does not harm you or others in mind, body, or spirit.  It is one that uplifts and upholds positive thoughts, words, and deeds.  We do it not just when it is easy, but when it is hard or difficult to do.

If you are willing to embark on this adventure with me remember that they need not be worked on in any particular order.  In fact, this would be a good time to review them and to see which ones you are doing well, which ones—not so well, and which ones—not at all.  Then it would be an opportunity, over the next 10 weeks or so, to take one each week starting with your weakest one, and begin working on it.  I am sure that the universe will provide you enough opportunities to practice with!

I think one of my weakest is #6 …does not speak of the faults of others.  I want to start my work with that one.  Let’s see how good I am at it after a week and if I slip back into my old habits once I stop focusing on it.  Only time will tell…

I hope you will join me on this adventure in Buddhism.

Things to focus on this week:

  • Step one: Begin by deciding which one you will work on first.
  • Step two: Set your intention to practice that one throughout the day/week.
  • Step three: Remember to be mindful of it by writing it on a 3×5 notecard, or by putting it in your smartphone and having it remind you throughout the day.
  • Step four: Remind yourself to listen to your thoughts and observe your behaviors to see if you are practicing the principle.
  • Step five: Finally, keep a journal on this precept and make note of how learning to embody it in thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life. Good luck with that!

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The Three Pure Precepts are always associated with what we call the “bodhisattva vow.”  Each and every one of us working on the teachings of Buddhism and the Three Pure Precepts are acting as a bodhisattva even if we don’t know it.  “In Mahayana Buddhism a bodhisattva is a being who seeks buddahood through the systematic practice of the perfect virtues (page 24).”[1]  The determining factor for the bodhisattva’s behavior is to actualize good for others. 

Reb Anderson in his wonderful book Being Upright (2001) writes, “Empowered by the realization of the Three Pure Precepts, you will gladly do whatever is beneficial not only for humans but for all living beings (page 77).”  He goes on to write, “The great master Yunmen was once asked by a monk, ‘What was the Buddha teaching his entire lifetime?’ Yunmen answered, ‘An appropriate response.’ Throughout his life Shakyamuni was primarily concerned with what was appropriate for the edification and liberation of whomever he was facing at the moment (page 79).[2]

Each day—moment by moment—we are given opportunities to show unconditional love and compassion the bodhisattva way. For many this will help liberate them from a life of sadness, depression, and doubt. To encounter someone who is there to help and not criticize, to love and not hate, to give and not take, to share and not withhold is a rare event.  Remember it is important to be a bodhisattva for others and for you. 

It is living a life of selflessness and thinking about how our actions, thoughts, words, and emotions help make this a better more loving and compassionate world for everyone.  Now that may sound like a very big job for just one person, but all change and good begins with just one.

I am reminded of a story about a young girl who while eating in McDonald’s noticed that the food was being served in Styrofoam containers.  She had learned in her science class how bad Styrofoam was for the environment and how much of it was in our landfills and how long it took to decompose: 1+ million years!  How long does it take to decompose one paper bag: 1 week.  How many hamburgers do they sell anyway?  4.2 million daily that comes to 29.4 million a week or 1.528 billion a year! So she took on a campaign to get McDonald’s to stop using them, and as we all know, it worked.  We now get our food in wax paper coverings.  Just one girl, one blossoming bodhisattva, looking out for the good of all concerned.

That was definitely an appropriate response!

Norman Fischer in his book Training in Compassion (2013) wrote, “What good is a really big love if it never gets applied in the world?”[3]  She had a really big love for the environment and the planet which was being left to her and her generation and she applied it appropriately! She also was able to do this by another great thought from Reb Anderson, “Forgetting yourself, you are able to embrace and sustain the most difficult manifestations of being. Embracing and sustaining all beings, you are finally able to meet yourself completely (page 82).”[4]   

She meet her bodhisattva self!  As you meet yours you will be able to greet the loving compassionate you through actualizing good for all concerned.

Things to focus on this week:

  1.  I will begin each day with the intention of “actualizing good for all concerned.”
  2. When I think the project or situation is too large for me to fix or is unattainable I will think of the girl who saved us from Styrofoam!
  3. Lastly, I will keep a journal of the opportunities that have been presented to me so I can keep track of my progress and the opportunities that are ahead of me to actualize good for all concerned.  


[1] The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, 1991,  Shambala, Boston, MA.

[2] Anderson, R. 2001, Being Upright Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts. Rodmell Press. Berkeley, CA

[3] Fischer, N. 2013, Training in Compassion Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong.  Shambala, Boston, MA.

[4] Anderson, R.

 

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“Whatever a hater may do to a hater, or an enemy to an enemy, a wrongly-directed mind will do us greater mischief (The Dhammapada, page9).”[1]  This is how I see the second precept “to practice good.”  If I set my intention each morning to direct my thinking toward the good it will make it a much easier and more pleasant path to follow that day.  If I make it a point to set a goal to do what is in the best interest of all concerned in each one of my encounters today—undoubtedly—I will have a much more fulfilling and pleasant day.

However, the world does give us many opportunities to test our metal to be able to do good in each and every encounter, with each and every thought, and with each and every action.  Sometimes we may even be confused about what the “good way” would be in a situation.    Rushworth Kidder in his book How Good People Make Tough Choices (1995) talks about situations where we are trying to figure out what to do where we may have two right/good choices.  He calls that “right vs right.” They are much harder to handle than the kind where we are faced with the “right vs wrong” situation, such as when we are given the wrong change at the store. It is easy to know the “right” think to do is to give the extra change back.  This situation easily gives us the opportunity to “practice good.”

But then when we face the “right vs right” challenge it can be much more difficult and frustrating since both ways are really right.  As in the family budget, “It is right to take the family on a much-needed vacation—and right to save that money for your children’s education (page 5).”[2]  Either way helps us to practice the second part of the Three Pure Precepts “to practice good.” So we are in a pickle, as they say!

Kidder goes on to say, “If we can call right-versus-right choices ‘ethical dilemmas’ we can reserve the phrase ‘moral temptations’ for the right-versus-wrong ones (page 5).”  That brings us around to the Dhammapada again where a wrongly-directed mind will do us greater mischief.  In the Platform Sutra the Zen Teaching of Hui-neng (2006) translated by Red Pine it says, “Good friends, as for ‘I vow to save all beings, no matter how numberless,’ it isn’t Hui-neng who does the saving.  Good friends, every being you can think of saves themselves with their own nature in their own bodies. (page 17).”[3]  Wow, that’s a challenge isn’t it!

Red Pine goes on to write,

The wrong views and afflictions, the ignorance and delusions in their own material bodies already possess the nature of original enlightenment.  It is just this nature of original enlightenment that saves them with right views.  Once they realize the prajna wisdom of right view, they dispel their ignorance and delusion, and each being saves themselves.  The false are saved with truth.  The deluded are saved with awareness.  The ignorant are saved with wisdom. The bad are saved with goodness.  And the afflicted are saved with enlightenment.  Those who are saved like this are truly saved (page 17).[4]

This is such a beautiful idea that each of us can work with as we practice precept #2 doing good.  Knowing that we have this innate wisdom within us that truly knows the right way is relieving us of many burdens and fears that we may not make the right choice.  So begin by getting in touch with “your own nature” as Hui-neng says.  And that nature is filled with the prajna wisdom and right views to help you handle any situations that may occur in your life.

Let’s take time each day to sit and while we are sitting or meditating or praying to focus on our true nature that of love, peace, joy and compassion.  Let us bring those emotions out in every situation with everyone we encounter throughout the day regardless of how they have approached us.  Let us see that within them is also the ability to tap into the prajna wisdom of right view and to act for the best interest of all concerned.  The “bad are saved with goodness” even if they do not know it in any moment the light may appear and they will recognize their true self.

If “a wrongly-directed mind will do us greater mischief” imagine what a rightly directed mind can do!

Things to focus on this week:

1.       1.   I will begin each day with the intention of finding good in everyone I meet.

2.      2.   When I feel a negative emotion I will remind myself that innate goodness and my nature of original enlightenment is within me right at this very moment.

3.       3.  Next, I will always look for the answer that is the best for all concerned.

4.      4.   Lastly, I will keep a journal of the opportunities that have been presented to me so I can keep track of my progress and my opportunities for growth.


[1] Babbitt, I., 1936 The Dhammapada, NY:NY A new Directions Paperbook

[2] Kidder, R.M., 1995 How Good People make Tough Choices, Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living, NY:NY Harper Collins Publisher

[3] Red Pine, 2006 The Platform Sutra The Zen Teaching of Hui-Neng, Berkeley: CA Counterpoint

[4] Ibid.

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