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Landscapes of Wonder book coverIn his chapter titled “Earth Tones” Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano talks about mindfulness and detachment and how they are like two sides of the same coin.

Observing the world and its changes mindfully, with detachment leads to disenchantment and peace and eventually liberation from suffering—Nibbana.  In order to restrain the reflex of greed it is important to try to stop looking at things crudely as potential enjoyments, and to see them more as means for understanding.  As long as we unthinkingly surrender to objects the power to infatuate or distract us or to force us into rash action, we live in peril, because of their inherent instability; but if we view with detachment both the repulsive and the love, if we see things exactly as they are and not as we would like them to be, then we can live safely and independently (page 64-65). [1]

When we become attached in this way what happens is the person, thing, object, or the words control us, have power over us, and thus can make our lives cold, bitter, sad, and lost. And yes, they can make us happy and feel loved, and worthwhile.  Regardless of whether we perceive these as good or bad just the naming of them tethers us to them through our thinking and our emotions. We are ultimately controlled by them.  To be free we want to be detached from them.  It is okay to observe them, recognize them, acknowledge them, and then let them go.  Detach them—see them floating away like a helium balloon.

Just this! Just this moment in time.  If the words are true of you it might be a good thing to say maybe I could have been nicer, or kinder, or more empathetic and then make a plan to do better the next time.  Then drop it!  Don’t be attached to the negative thoughts, the previous actions, or deeds.  Don’t ruminate over the past since you can’t go back and you can’t change the past!  The best thing to do is remove your attachment and move forward toward the good.

Avoid allowing others to control you by what they think, say, and feel about you.  Detach yourself from the objects you precede with the words “must have” in your life. Those are things that you have convinced yourself make you part of the team/crowd or worthy of someone’s attention or love. You were born divine and perfect regardless of how you feel today and regardless of what “they” think or say about you.  Detach yourself from their words and the names that they call you good, bad, or indifferent.

Simply observe the world without attachment. Make any changes you think are necessary.  Be the person your dog or cat things you are! Nyanasobhano says, “To be free of the tyranny of the senses—including the mind-sense—is to walk with mindfulness in the present moment, to think, act, and feel without distortion, to be unruffled and capable (page 65).” [2]  This is the person that you really are! Now act like it!

 

[1] Nyanasobhano, B. (1998) Landscapes of wonder Discovering Buddhist Dhamma in the world around us. Somerville Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications

[2] Ibid.

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Landscapes of Wonder book coverIn this chapter Bhikkhu talks about meditation as not just something to do when you are at the zendo, on your cushion at home, or in your yoga class. It is to live a life filled with opportunities to “mediate” in each and every moment to be mindful and to be present!

He writes:

To be effective in revealing truth, meditation or bhavana must include mindfulness (satti). Mindfulness means pure attentiveness, an alert, impartial function of mind that simply notes whatever appears by way of the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and mind itself.  Mindfulness does not cogitate, judge, or interpret; it only observes, naturally and without commentary, the actual character of an object or phenomenon (page 16-17). [1]

Wow!  Imagine how different your life would be if you walked around in a mindful way, without judgment, criticism, or expectation.  Without judgment!  I am not saying this effort won’t be difficult since we have been living a life filled with judgments and opinions and rules.  Yes, we need some so we won’t try to cross the street on the red instead of the green and won’t eat food that looks or smells spoiled and get food poisoning that’s for sure! But those are extremes.

I’d like for you to give this technique a try for just 5 minutes!  I’d like for you to simply go about your business focusing your thoughts on looking at things as they actually are.  This is a curb I need to step down.  Not—look at this curb it’s all busted up and the yellow paint is all chipped!  Where are my tax dollars going!?

You may be thinking I don’t have time to practice mindfulness or mediation I’m too busy!  Bhikkhu writes, “…insight meditation is not an extra duty to be piled on top of our already overburdened minds, but rather a way of looking more clearly at what is actually happening (page 18).”

He encourages us to “rouse and employ mindfulness in all situations, to perceive simply what is there, to note calmly and objectively the rising and the passing away of phenomena, specifically with regard to (1) the physical body; (2) pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feelings; (3) mind or consciousness and (4) mental objects (page 18).”

In doing so you will see your life and the external world more clearly and yet less judgmentally.  You will see it just as it is.  He goes on to recommend that there is, “No need to comment on these; mindfulness merely notices, holding on to nothing. Likewise, the mind entertains countless ideas and perceptions.  They all come and go, come and go—and the consistent, moment by moment observations of these is meditation (page 19).

So, if you think in order to be meditating you have to be sitting on your cushion, or at the beach, or in the mountains you are wrong! When you find yourself focused on this “moment” without judgment you are meditating!  How easy is that…simply live in the now moment not in the past not in the future.  What a novel idea! Let me know how it goes!

[1] Nyanasobhano, B. (1998) Landscapes of wonder Discovering Buddhist Dhamma in the world around us. Somerville Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications

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On the second page of this chapter Bhikkhu writes this question, “How did we ever fall to this bondage (page 2)?”[1] It made me stop to think about my life and the bondages I have created for myself.  The bondage of perfection, hope, fear, lack, hopelessness, and suffering. As I read I wondered if I could ever break these chains.

He answered my question when he wrote, “The Pali word ‘Dhamma’ (Dharma in Sanskrit) means true nature, the fundamental, liberating facts of reality and the course of practice that leads to deliverance from all suffering. But the path of Dhamma is a way without extremes.”  And so, I thought about my day and wondered how often I have gone to extremes and how those extremes affected my day.

cartoon-b-c-words-slip-outExtreme #1:  Woke up as usual at 5:15 to get ready to go to Zen and the coffee was not made and ready for me to enjoy in my morning ritual—reaction anger and not so nice words.

Extreme #2:  I love apple pie so I bought a nice one and baked it in my oven. Wow did that smell delicious! I proceeded to eat a piece after supper, then for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and an evening snack the next day.  Hmmmm

Now I know these are not “cardinal sins” as they say in Catholicism but they sure did not make my life devoid of suffering or bondage.  And they were definitely not the way “without extremes.”

He goes on to write: The Dhamma beautifully encompasses the twin problems of thoughtful people: how to get along serenely day to day in the toils of the world, and how to overcome the world and all its suffering forever (page 5).”[2]  He points often in this chapter to our “ignorance” as a catalyst to our suffering.  He writes “When ignorance is destroyed and craving withers away, greed, hatred, and delusion cannot come to be, and suffering, cut off at the roots, must expire and disappear.  Then there can no longer be any mental affliction, or spiritual uncertainty, or confusion.  The perfected one sees the universe just as it is, and experiences what the Buddha called ‘that unshakable deliverance of the heart (page 7-8).’”[3]

“We can achieve deliverance by consciously cutting through the bonds we have tied around ourselves, by resisting and ultimately destroying greed, hatred, and delusion, by making a final end of ignorant craving. However sharp the hunger, however keen the pain, nobody gets out of the jungle of troubles without making a sustained, personal effort (page 9).”[4]

And finally, he writes, “The Buddhist goes by way of Dhamma—the middle—way and does the walking alone, stumbles and gets up again, picks off the thorns, gets in the open and stays there with determined effort—no slave to false hope, no listless idler, and yet no superman: just a thinking being who has become convinced that the fearful storms of the universe are born in and burst out of his own heart and that nobody can quell them but him. (page 9-10).[5]

I wish for you a beautiful middle way, a forest with less and less thorns, and fewer and fewer storms all overcome by your budding unshakable heart.

[1] Nyanasobhano, B. (1998) Landscapes of wonder Discovering Buddhist Dhamma in the world around us. Somerville Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

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Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano writes in his introduction:Landscapes of Wonder book cover

The faith of the Buddhist grows out of experience fortified by instruction.  The Buddha shows how to make the journey out of suffering to emancipation, and if we feel quickening of interest we can take steps ourselves to investigate and to test what we have learned. This collection of essays is about finding the right direction and then moving forward with mindfulness and deliberation (page xi).

I hope that sharing these ideas and my musings about them will help you discover the power of your practice, to allow it to enlighten and brighten your life, to help bring you to a place of peace, love, and compassion for self and others each and every day.

This journey is never an easy one because we are required to look within, to set aside time to mediate, contemplate, and to push through our fears, anxieties, old beliefs, and doubts.  However, with determination, concentration, and support from the author and others on the path all things are possible!

Bhikkhu goes on to write:

Fortunately the teaching of the Buddha is universal, giving us the chance not just to admire what others have admired but to make our own search—to observe, meditate, and discover through our own efforts (page xii).

Thus, it does not matter if you were raised in a non-religious household or a religious one of any denomination or teaching truth is truth no matter where it comes from.  In your life I know that you have discovered what you believe through actions propelled from book learning, intuition, help from another, or seemingly by accident.  It does not matter how it came the important thing is that it did.  It gave you that cosmic AH HA! Or Yikes—Or Oh my god!  It could have felt like you were hit with a hammer, a banana, or a cream pie, but hit you were!

I hope our wandering through this wonderful book will give you many cosmic experiences! Good luck with that…

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book cover A Flower Does not talkShibayama begins by giving us the literal explanation of the phrase.

“Nature as used here is not something one has acquired after he was born, but it is the ‘true innate Nature with which one was primarily born.’  It is the Absolute Nature at the very foundation of existence (page 27).”[1]

So, when you hear someone say “it’s just my nature” to be like that or do that they are wrong.  It is their education, upbringing, culture, etc. that has made them behave like that.  And that is great!  Why?  Because that means we can change it if we want to.  Just like when growing up I learned to love chopped liver on crackers because my dad was Jewish and his mom always made it for him when he was young and so he made it for us.

Now some of you may be saying YIKES! I’m a vegan or a vegetarian or I never eat that kind of stuff, no kidneys, no brains, and no hearts!  It’s not in my nature…so what is?

Shibayama goes on to say,

Zen does not say to “know” this absolute fundamental Nature, but it says to “see” into the Nature. This religious experience of “seeing into one’s Nature” is called kensho in Japanese. By this one attains his religious personality. In Christian terminology, one is saved by God. In Buddhist terminology, it is “to attain to Buddhahood.” The fourth maxim can therefore be paraphrased: “By the fact of religious experience one attains his Buddhahood (page 27-28).[2]

He goes on to say that “the term Buddha is used in its original Sanskrit meaning, namely, ‘an enlightened one.’ In The Song of Zazen by Hakuin, the term Buddha comes in its first line where he says, ‘All beings are primarily Buddhas (page28).’”[3]  He is asking us to think outside the box.  To go beyond our ordinary consciousness to our “true/innate nature.”

Even when we do something foolish or mean or unjust that does not mean our true/innate nature has been modified or damaged.  So, we are always given a second, third, fourth or hundredth chance to get it right, to do it better, to remember our true nature is Buddha nature—loving kindness, compassion for self and others, for perfect health, happiness, and joy.

Take time out of your busy schedule today to discover your “true nature” through some time in quiet meditation.  Focus on your breath.  Let go of all goals, rules, laws, and past negative thinking and open your mind to the truth of who you are. When you get up from your meditation…act like it!!

[1] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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Diane Ackerman in her book An Alchemy of Mind, The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain writes, “The brain is not the mind, the mind inhabits the brain (page 4).”[1]

Shibayama writes, “The Mind here does not refer to thought or emotion, nor does it refer to human psychology which is an object of scientific research. It is not the consciousness, nor the psyche which is dealt with by psychiatrists, either. When we go beyond all these, wash them off, and transcend their limitations, for the first time we can reach the Mind which is also called the Buddha Mind, the Absolute Mind, the Spirituality, or the truth (page 26).”[2]

And so, when we mediate we give ourselves the opportunity to transcend our human thoughts that we created through study, reading, our culture, and experiences and move into touching the greater Mind.

He shares a story about Zen Master Sekito who was training a monk and while walking through the forest they came across a dense thicket that they could not walk through. The student asked Sekito for the knife. “Sekito unsheathed his big mountain knife, and without a word thrust out the knife with the sharp edge toward him.  The companion was frightened, and withdrew his hand crying, “Stop the nonsense! Let me have the hilt.” Sekito’s reply was sharper than the edge of the knife.  He said, “What is the use of the hilt? The monk could not utter a word in reply (page 26-27).”[3]

Shibayama finishes by writing, “We are apt to stick to the hilt which is of secondary importance, and miss the Truth altogether.  Sekito is urging us to get hold of the fundamental Truth direct.  Here we see the truth of direct pointing (page 27).”  It is the blade that does the work that cuts through our wrong thinking and fears and anxieties.  Remember the axiom, “The truth will set you free.” Where is your freedom?  Hidden in a job, an education, a scripture, a political party, or religion?

Then there is the power of meditation.  Each day as you take the opportunity to sit and calm the “monkey mind” you’ll find that soon you’ll be able to transcend the brain/mind and tap in to the greater mind, the Buddha Mind, the Absolute Mind. And when you do you’ll discover who you really are and you will experience the power and peace that has always been within reach when you make that direct connection.

Which mind are you pointing to?

brain-perception

[1] Ackerman, D. (2004) An Alchemy of Mind The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain. Scribner: NY

[2] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

[3] Ibid.

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Shibayama’s first paragraph in this section reads:

The real life and spirit of Zen is an experiential fact.  It does not rely on letters, that is, on written or verbal expressions which function within the dualistic limitations.  From the very beginnings of human self-consciousness, human beings have been making the mistake of confounding the experiential fact and its expressions in letters which are just the conceptual shadows of the fact. We are liable to believe that the experience itself exists in letters and words. Zen, which insists that the direct, genuine experience is basic, regards letters and verbal expressions as of secondary importance (page 23).[1]

Don’t get me wrong in this part or in Part 3 I am not suggesting that you don’t read and study and learn about Buddhism and Zen in particular.  It is good to understand and know the philosophy by which Buddhists live and how they relate to the outer world in a Buddhist way. But the words we read are empty and temporary and do not in and of themselves make this a better place in which to live or make you a better person.  When we demonstrate our knowledge of the teachings by our own “direct actions” and not by reciting a koan or a sutra or something we read in a book we are demonstrating the life and spirit of Zen.

 

Peace Pilgrim

One of my favorite people that ever walked on planet Earth was life’s perfect example of living the spirit of Zen and she was not a Buddhist: The Peace Pilgrim.  From 1953 until 1981 when she died she walked around the world to share her message of peace and to stop the proliferation of nuclear arms. She did not rely on letters!  She believed “when enough of us find inner peace, our institutions will all become more peaceful and there will be no more occasion for war (page xi).”[2]  In those few years she walked 25,000 miles for her vow: “I shall remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until I am given shelter and fasting until I am given food.”  She walked those 25,000 miles without a penny in her pocket.

 

 

She was a great example of Shibayama’s teaching that we demonstrate our knowledge by our own direct actions. Her “real life” was demonstrated in her actions as she walked as a “prayer” and as a chance to inspire others to pray and work with her for peace.  Peace in all ways she suggested: within ourself, as we express it toward others, and how our peaceful actions can encourage our communities, states, and countries to work toward peace.

She was the spirit of Zen that did not rely on letters but her “direct genuine experience” of walking and sharing her peace and love with everyone she met as she walked those 25,000 miles.

Ask yourself today are you simply reading about Zen or are you living Zen and how many miles would you walk expressing your vow?  Do you even have a vow?

 

[1] Shibayama, Z. (1970) A Flower Does Not Talk Zen Essays. Charles E. Tuttle Co.: Vermont & Tokyo Japan

[2] Friends of Peace Pilgrim publication, first published in 1982, http://www.peacepilgrim.org

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