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Posts Tagged ‘Living by Vow A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Text.’

buddha-quote-thinkingAtonement is not a word we use much in America, especially today.  Yet, with what is going on in our country and around the world we sure do need more work on it, more thinking about it, and more doing something about what we need to atone for.  I don’t think we can atone for the “sins of our fathers” as they say, but we can atone for our own negative thoughts, words, deeds, and behaviors.

Atonement has been defined in many ways such as reparation for a wrong doing or making amends for your actions, words, and/or deeds.  Or even read as “at one meant.” In, Buddhism we have a gatha or chant that we recite at the end of our sitting period. It is simple yet powerful.

All harmful karma ever committed by me since of old
On account of my beginingless greed, anger, and ignorance,
Born of my body, mouth, and thought,
Now I atone for it all…

Kaz Tanahashi in his book Zen Chants reminds us that “We are in the midst of changeable and unchangeable karma in each moment.  We are bound by cause and effect, but at the same time we are partly free of cause and effect. This is the case during meditation, when we can be completely free from the chain of causation.  At this time, we can be anybody and anywhere.  We are what we meditate.  We are also the source of cause and effect (page 146).[1]

Each time I recite this chant I feel like I’ve been given a new life, and a new opportunity to get something right!  To have a “do over” as we might say today.  I may not be able to have a “do over” with someone who has passed away or no longer will take my calls, texts, or emails, but atone I must—to forgive myself for my behavior or words or deeds that harmed or hurt another.  Regardless of whether the person is someone you know or a total stranger if we have harmed then atonement is the best action to take.  If we decide not to take that action it doesn’t mean that we’re done with it anyway!

I once worked with a congregant of mine who had a very bad relationship with his brother.  Upon his brother’s untimely death, he went into a great depression for how he had left their relationship.  It came to me when we were together one day for him to simply meditate on the love that he had held back from his brother and ask an imaginary angel to deliver him a message of repentance, love, and compassion.  Not long after he said that his brother had come to him in a dream and they hugged and forgave each other, and his pain and suffering was relieved.  His love for his brother was evident in his countenance he was smiling joyfully.

He was freed from the chain of causation through atonement! How chained are you?  What will you do about it? Will you atone and be released from those thoughts and emotions?  Or do you choose to live with the pain, anger, and animosity?  The choice is yours—which will it be.

[1]Tanahashi, K. (2015) Zen Chants Thirty-Five Essential Texts with Commentary. Shambhala: Boston and London

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Hearing this simply perceive the source!
Make no criterion: if you do not see the way,
You do not see it even as you walk on it.
When you walk the way, you draw no nearer, progress no farther:
Who fails to see this is mountains and rivers away.
Listen, those who would pierce this subtle matter,
Do not waste your time by night or day!

These are the last seven verses of the Sandokai. We will be looking at the meaning for each of us in these very simple yet profound words. Shohaku Okumura goes on to write in his book, Living by Vow, about the importance of these last verses as we use them in our practice and in our daily lives.

All doctrines, theories, and descriptions using words and concepts are distorted images of reality from our own point of view. When we realize this, even a distorted copy can be useful. However, if we mistake the distorted map for the true reality, we stray, making up our own standards of judgment (page 247).[1]

“Making up our own standards of judgment” would often put us outside of what we know about Zen Buddhism and the way of life prescribed in its teachings and precepts. It will bring our focus into the material and physical worlds and out of the world beyond things and thoughts and the precepts by which we live our lives as Buddhists.

He goes on to write:

By just sitting and letting go of thought, we can be within reality. Just sitting allows us to put our entire being on the ground of reality. But usually we make up our own standards and create our distorted version of reality. Therefore, we need to constantly practice letting go. When we place ourselves on the ground of reality, we will find the path we need to walk. Otherwise, we will be lost in the map made by our minds (page 247-48).[2]

So instead of letting our idle minds, fears, and distortions of reality control our life let us focus on the words of the Sandokai and remember that even when we are on the path we may “fail to see this.” So how about ensuring that you sit daily to help “ground” yourself even if it is only 10 minutes. Then each day you will get closer and closer to piercing “this subtle matter.” Closer to finding your way into peace, love, and compassion. Closer to living the life of the Buddha and those teachers and followers who have been able to “perceive the source.” And through that perception make this life a grand experiment where we “walk the talk” and “talk the talk” and “live the talk.”

What a beautiful life that would be. What a wonderful world that would be. So let’s try it each day, moment by moment, why not? What have we got to lose—fear, anxiety, greed, ego, illness, and anger? “Do not waste your time by night or day” on those things.—Let’s make our life “moment by moment” one filled with love for the dharma and all its myriad things both visible and invisible “without making any criteria” and your life will be transformed. Without preferences you might say—simply perceive the source.” Then move toward it with each step. Good luck with that!

“Who fails to see this is mountains and rivers away.”

craggy-gardens

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Okumura, S. (2012) Living by Vow, A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA

[2] Ibid.

PHOTO: http://listeningwiththeeye.squarespace.com/galleries/color/craggy-gardens.jpg

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Each thing has its own being which is not different
From its place and function.
The relative fits the absolute as a box and its lid.
The absolute meets the relative like two arrow points that touch high in the air.

Once again Shohaku Okumura shares his insight in his book Living by Vow, on these lines:
“Each thing has its own being which is not different from its place and function.”

“We have a responsibility to accept this unique body and mind and put it to use. To fulfill the potential of this body and mind, we have to find an appropriate situation and embrace it as our own life, as our own work (page 245).”[1]

Today would be a great day to think about your potential and how you are using or not using “this unique body and mind” that you have been given. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Because you are alive everything is possible.” What possibilities are being revealed to us today? Are we using all of our skills, talents, and knowledge to do what we have been sent here to do?

As a Unity minister I spent many days creating affirmations for my congregants to use daily in their lives. This is one that I have used for many years: I am open and receptive to receive my good in health, wealth, and happiness to do the things I have come here to do.

I found that sometimes I would wake up with these questions in mind, “What have I been born for, why am I here, what’s this life all about anyway?” And off and on during the day I found myself pondering those questions until one day I wrote the previous affirmation to help find the answer to those questions. The affirmation inspires me to: Do what will keep me healthy in mind, body, and spirit. To have enough money to do the things that I have come here to do. And to be happy!

I still say it daily and find that I continue to be guided to see the simple things in my life that I am led to do. Helping an elderly person lift something heavy in the grocery store, consoling a friend after the loss of a loved one, or something as simple as letting a car go in front of me in a long line of traffic. It may sound way too simple but it follows Okumura’s words, “to find an appropriate situation and embrace it as our own life, as our own work.” Just as a “box and its lid” fit tightly into one vessel. The work does not have to be designing a spaceship to Mars or curing cancer, but simple acts of kindness can do things for that person that you may not ever have expected or will ever find out about. And that’s the best part!

In the next part Okumura writes:

Shitou says that phenomena and principle, difference and unity, should meet like the arrows. Our practice is to actualize this relationship between difference and unity in each situation. For example, we cannot live by ourselves. We are part of a community, and yet no matter where I live, I am I. I cannot be another person, and yet to be a member of a community I have to transcend “I am I” and see the situation of the whole community (page 246).[2]

And so there is me, myself, and I. Along with this reality there are others that live on this planet with whom we have to function on a daily basis. People in our families, at work, in our communities and more. Each different and yet the same, with dreams, wishes, and aspirations for themselves and their families. As a Buddhist I feel drawn to being a part of this planet with all of its intricacies and challenges to endeavor to make it just a little bit better for all those who happen to pass my way, whether on purpose or by accident. As our eyes may meet in a quick glance I smile and you smile back and we have joined like “two arrow points that touch high in the air.”

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Okumura, S. (2012) Living by Vow, A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA

[2] Ibid.

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The four elements return to their true nature as a child to its mother.

Fire is hot, water is wet, wind moves and the earth is dense.

Eye and form, ear and sound, Nose and smell, tongue and taste…the sweet and sour.

Each independent of the other like leaves that come from the same root;

And though leaves and root must go back to the source,

Both root and leaves have their own uses.

These passages can be translated as being not the physical elements of fire, wind, water, and earth as such. Shohaku Okumura in his book Living by Vow elaborates on their true meaning for us.

For example, fire represents body heat; wind symbolizes breathing and moving; water denotes blood, tears, or other bodily liquids; and earth suggests bones, nails, hair, and other solids. In addition to these four, Mahayana Buddhism considers ku, which means “emptiness” or “space,” the fifth gross element. In Chinese, space and emptiness are represented by the same character, which means “sky.” Everything occupies space, so space is, in a sense, another element (pages 234-5).[1]

We live, as the name of the sutra says, in the world of the relative and the world of the absolute. And not only do we live in it but as Okumura says we “are” it. There is no separation of our physical bodies and the entire world even to the great big sky. He suggests that we should free ourselves from “words” and transcend them and look to the “middle waying and yangy.”

The symbol of yin and yang is a great example of this, he says. They oppose, they intermingle, and they merge. There is a black dot in the middle of the white, and a white dot in the middle of the black. Thus the symbol illustrates separation, and merging, and oneness, and difference, masculine and feminine, and yet all working together to create the whole.

He says, “This circle is called the “great ultimate.” It is the source in “Sandokai (page 238).”[2]

And yet we live our lives in a “dualistic” way, focused on separation, differences, likes and dislikes. We are encouraged when we come to Zen and learn to sit zazen to drop the duality and merge into the emptiness of the sky. Doing this can help us in many ways from relieving the body of tension and stress, calming the monkey mind and bringing it to quiet and stillness, and freeing the body from physical pain. Not that we focus on doing these things or try to make them happen, it is just a result of the body and mind becoming one with quiet, stillness and emptiness.

Even the heart knows the stillness within the body. After the lub/dub sounds of the heart valves pushing the blood through the heart into the arteries in a healthy person the sounds disappear.

If a stethoscope is placed over the brachial artery in the antecubital fossa in a normal person (without arterial disease), no sound should be audible.[3] What a great illustration of the place to be when sitting in the silence. Our body instinctively knows what to do without us doing a thing.

As I was writing this blog I was led to sit for a short period and at the end of my sit the words to this chant began to sing in my head. We used to chant this simple little song each week at Unity Church before we began the meditation.

In the silence there is a sacred place, a secret meeting place, Love is there. In the silence where every color blends, and every rainbow ends, Good is there.   In the light now you find that you know peace of mind. In the silence your path is paved in gold, and all your dreams unfold; Love is there, Peace is there, Truth is there, God is there.”

What a beautiful illustration of the Sandokai, whether you believe in a god or not, the chant worked. It brought everyone into stillness and into a deeper meditation than some thought possible.

For most this process of stillness occurs after much time spent in zazen. It does not occur over night. It is not something to get stressed about. You need not spend time wondering why your monkey mind is still raging, comparing yourself to others in the group, or trying to make something happen. It is simply coming to sit—with no goals in mind except sitting.

I know that sounds crazy and it probably is. But the sky does not try to be the sky, it just is. The rainbow does not try to be a rainbow it just is. The moon and the sun do not try to be moon and sun. The sun does not wish to be the moon and vice versa. They all just “be” it.

You too can just be the four elements and the emptiness and the rainbow and the stillness whenever and wherever you are. In fact you are already it…there is nothing to search for. Just be it and watch what happens in your life without any work from you at all.

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Okumura, S. (2012) Living by Vow, A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korotkoff_sounds

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Forms differ primally in shape and character,
And sounds in sharp or soothing tones.
The dark makes all words one,
The brightness distinguishes good and bad phrases

Shohaku Okumura writes in his beautiful book Living by Vow, “The statement that unity shines in difference and difference flows in the unity is a paradox (page 221).”

We all understand that we live in a physical world where cars can crash into each other, we hit our shin on the coffee table and know that it is definitely real and physical and independent of me, myself, and I. I am not the table and the table is not me. And yet, if we read the lines from the Sandokai we hear the words in our head that say “the darkness makes all words one.” What’s that all about?

Although I am a separate person from my mother–independent. I would not exist without being interdependent with her for nine months. And of course my father was an integral part of the interdependence as well. Of which I am sure, were he alive, he would attest to that fact.

I once saw a TED Talk about a young designer, Thomas Thwaites, who was assigned to choose a project to work on at school. The project he decided on was to build a toaster from scratch. I mean from scratch! He made his iron, plastic, cooper wire and more, which he turned into parts to build the toaster. He quickly discovered that nothing could be done without help from ages of people discovering, studying, testing, building, and creating. And thus we are all interdependent generations of the world in which we live. Without them none of us would have a toaster!

And if we go on Ancestry.com we can see yet another indication that we are interdependent through our genes.

Shohaku Okumura goes on to write, “Our practice is to manifest the merging of difference [independence] and unity [interdependence] completely in every activity, including zazen.” In our practice we have a goal of becoming “one” with these two concepts not only in our time sitting, but throughout the day. When I sit in the zendo with others I enjoy that immensely. I love the peace and compassion that I feel exuding from each member and it often makes my “sit” deeper and easier. And yet, we are all individuals sitting independently and at the same time merging silently as one.

If we could just spread this idea around the world we could end wars, hatred, and prejudice. If we could live like the raindrops that fall into the ocean and become one with it we could understand the idea of interdependence in the Sandokai. Within that ocean of oneness lives millions of creatures from microscopic ones to the giant gentle blue whale whose heart is the size of a car.

Stop for just a moment, if you can, and “Imagine” what the world would look like if we knew our interdependence and lived as though we did…

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky

Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You, you may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will live as one

~ In loving memory of John Lennon

A simply perfect illustration of “soothing tones” and “the brightness distinguishing good and bad phrases.”

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1]Okumura, S. (2012) Living by Vow, A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA

[2] http://www.ted.com/talks/thomas_thwaites_how_i_built_a_toaster_from_scratch

[3] Read more at http://www.lyrics.com/imagine-lyrics-john-lennon.html#22oElMRbqhRgPdh3.99

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All spheres, every sense and field,
Intermingle even as they shine alone, interacting even as they merge,
Yet keeping their places in expression of their own.

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi (1999) wrote:

“The Sandokai’s words are also double-edged. One side is interdependence (ego) and one side is absolute independence (fuego). This interdependency goes on and on everywhere, and yet things stay in their own places. That is the main point of the Sandokai (510).[1]

That is why we are calling it “relative and absolute” not one, not two, not either, but both as the above lines of the poem/sutra describe. And so in this world we use everything in the relative world (light/San) that we can see, hear, taste and touch on the physical plane and we live at the same time in the absolute (darkness/Do) the oneness where there is no differentiation.

Shohaku Okumura in his book Living by Vow uses the example of our five senses to illustrate this point.

Eye is eye, ear is ear, and nose is nose. They have different functions and shapes. They cannot replace each other. If we lose our eyes, we can’t see. If we lose our nose, we can’t smell. But in a universal sense they are not independent; none of them have self-nature. They are really interdependent. And yet in our commonsense way of seeing the world, eye is eye, nose is nose, tongue is tongue. Individuality and universality always coexist, and neither side should be negated or ignored. We should always try to see reality, all beings, and our lives from both perspectives. (page 227)[1]

So when looking at your life do not look through a monocular lens but through a binocular lens where you see both the relative and the absolute for one cannot exist without the other. If we see life through this mono vision we will be confused and upset as the world outside does not comport with the world inside us. This causes stress, fear, anxiety, and confusion in our minds and bodies and can lead us to frustration in our practice and in our relations at work, at home, and at play.

Parallax is a word in science that means “a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight.” Wikipedia gives the example of sitting in your car and looking at the old fashioned speedometer straight on and seeing the car going 60 miles per hour. While your mom sitting next to you in the passenger seat sees a different speed and will chastise you for going too fast and will warn you about the cost of getting a speeding ticket.

So the Sandokai is asking each of us to see life through the relative and the absolute, to move and adjust our vision, our life, our sitting, and everything from both points of view. It asks us to see our actions and thoughts as “interdependent” while at the same time being “independent.” My thoughts are not your thoughts, yet all thoughts ultimately align in the interdependency of all things.

How many times have your thoughts and someone else’s thoughts been exactly the same and spoken simultaneously? An example would be: You were thinking of calling your friend to invite him or her to lunch at your favorite restaurant. You reach for the phone, as you do it rings and it is him or her calling you to ask you to go to lunch at that same exact restaurant. What are the changes of that in an independent world? What are the chances of that in an interdependent world?

You might say “fuego” has occurred. Fuego “is a manner of ‘doing’ that is not premeditated but rather arises as an instantaneous, spontaneous reaction to given circumstances,” such as hunger for lunch at your favorite restaurant with your favorite friend! And still your hunger is yours and hers is hers.

And thus this brings us back to our verse:

All spheres, every sense and field,
Intermingle even as they shine alone, interacting even as they merge,
Yet keeping their places in expression of their own.

We are both independent individuals as we shine in our own singularity and yet we are all one in the same as we merge in our interdependence. Be mindful of your thoughts and conversations this week. Let me know how it felt when you realized that you were treating someone as the “other” or “independent being” and how it felt when you were treating someone as the “same” or “interdependent being.”

When we treat them as an “interdependent being” we just may call each other simultaneously to enjoy a meal at our favorite restaurant!

Chew on that for a week and let me know how it if feels and tastes!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

Fuego, literally “doing by not doing” Zen expression for intentionless action, which leaves no trace in the heart-mind of the one acting, as is the case with profound enlightenment. It is a manner of “doing” that is not premeditated but rather arises as an instantaneous, spontaneous reaction to given circumstances. (The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen (1991) page 72.

[1] Suzuki, S. (1999) Branching streams flow in the darkness: Zen talks on the Sandokai. University of California Press: Berkeley, CA

[2] Okumura, S. (2012) Living By Vow A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts. Wisdom Publications: Boston MA

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We are winding down our thoughts on the verses from the “Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra” and only have one verse and the mantra left to go after this.  All of the verses we have looked at are distinct in their wisdom and bring light to the principles by which Buddhists live.

All past, present and future buddhas live this Prajna Paramita

And attain supreme, perfect enlightenment.

Therefore, know that Prajna Paramita is the holy mantra,

The luminous mantra, the supreme mantra,

The incomparable mantra

By which all suffering is cleared.

Lucky for us these are some of the easiest verses to understand and when the Sutra is chanted and the ideas are used regularly they can help bring peace, love, joy, and light into our lives. The verse tells us that throughout the ages people have lived by these principles and through the ideas, techniques, and practices have lived a life where suffering was limited and for some maybe even eliminated.

So if you are looking for a way to alleviate or at least minimize the suffering in your lives make it a habit to sit each day and before the sitting chant “The Great Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra.”

Shohaku Okumura in his book Living By Vow A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts writes this about these verses:

Although the sutra has the phrase ‘relieves all suffering.’ I don’t believe it works as a kind of pain killer.  Instead it enables us to change the way we view our lives and ourselves.  It allows us to see the deeper meaning and broader reality of our life.  Our way of thinking is limited by our experience, education, culture, and values.  Our picture of the world is narrow.  This wisdom of prajna-paramita enables us to break through these fixed systems of value and see reality from a wider perspective (p. 202). [1]

Just as Okumura says, “Look at life from a different point of view.”  I remember sometime back reading a story about a woman who had lived in a very remote area of her country and suddenly fell ill.  She traveled far and long to get to a hospital where she was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  During the surgery the physicians realized that they could not get it all.  They did not say anything to her about that and when she was able they sent her home to die.  Several years later she appeared in the ER with another, but different, problem.  When the nurse looked up her chart she asked to see a picture ID and without thinking said, “It can’t be you—we sent you home to die.”  The patient replied, “Well no one told me that!”   She had evidently “changed the way she had viewed her life” from one of illness to one of wellness!

Charles Fillmore the co-founder of Unity was often quoted as saying, “Pain is inevitable—suffering is optional.”

Yet, we keep suffering and some even talk themselves into dying and others talk themselves into living.  Sitting regularly and practicing the principles of Buddhism is a great way to help us remember that suffering is optional!

Things to focus on this week:

  1. I will begin each day by sitting in quiet meditation while remembering that “suffering is optional.”
  2. I will remind myself to simply return my focus to my breath no matter how many times I have to do so—without frustration or anger.
  3. I will look for the rainbow behind the cloud and focus my attention there.
  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] Okumura, S. (2012) Living By Vow A practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts, Wisdom Publications, Boston: MA

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