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Posts Tagged ‘Mahayana Buddhism’

Today I scoured my bookshelves for something to use as a catalyst for my next Zen workbook to share with our members “behind the fence.”  Yuanwu jumped out at me and said, how about my teachings?  Some of my favorite translators of Zen Buddhism, Thomas Cleary and J.C. Cleary, created a wonderful book entitled Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu.

Yuanwu Chinese MasterYuanwu’s teachings are filled with words of wisdom and actions for the everyday person to incorporate into his or her life. Although he may have lived from 1063-1135 his words are still pertinent to how we can live our lives each day with optimism. He is also known by Buddhists as the author of the Blue Cliff Record a compilation of 100 koans and his commentaries.

The authors write in their introduction: The Zen tradition, like all of Mahayana Buddhism, is invincibly optimistic about human possibilities—our true identity, our inherent buddha nature, can never be destroyed.  It is our basic essence, and it is with us always, waiting to be activated and brought to life (page vi-vii).[1]

The authors go on to write: These teachers meant to enable us to become aware of our buddha nature and to gain the use of it in everyday life.  Zen Buddhism, like all other branches of Mahayana Buddhism, maintains that it is the true destiny of every person to become enlightened (page v-vi).[2]

For people in other religious beliefs you may interchange the Buddha nature with Christ nature or for indigenous people your ideas and teachings.  But all spiritual and/or religious beliefs have this basic essence described throughout their doctrines, writings, music, and art. As we follow in the footsteps of the masters we begin to realize that we too can be enlightened. Even though we sit with “no” conscious intention of it—if we practice the principles and sit and live the tenants all things are possible to those who believe.  Believe it not—and it will not be!  That is the truth of all of life.

Thus, I hope this blog and eventual workbook will be of interest to all people of all faiths and beliefs, and to those who hold no particular faith belief whatsoever.  Everyone is welcome on this adventure with Yuanwu the Chinese Master. I hope you’ll come along for the ride!

[1] Cleary J.C. and Cleary, T. (1994) Zen Letters Teachings of Yuanwu. Boston & London: Shambhala

[2] Ibid.

 

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Faith is a very broad topic and means many different things to many different people.  How can I “meet” my faith today anyway?  It’s not like faith is walking down the street in a shiny new pair of shoes and a red dress or a blue suit. James Russell Lowell said “Science was faith once.”  And my favorite Unity minister and author H. Emily Cady wrote this about faith:

The word faith is one that has generally been thought to denote a simple form of belief based mostly on ignorance and superstition.  Blind faith they have disdainfully chosen to call it—fit only for ministers, women, and children, but not a practical thing on which to establish everyday business affairs of life (page 71).[1]

In the Lotus Sutra in Mahayana Buddhism it links the idea of faith to discernment.

“If any living beings who seek after the Buddha-way either see or hear this Law-Flower sutra [i.e. the Lotus Sutra], and after hearing it believe and discern, receive and keep it, you may know that they are near perfect enlightenment.

The same sutra asserts that the Dharma as a whole is difficult to grasp with mere words, and that ultimately only those bodhisattvas who believe with firm faith can penetrate its nature. The Buddha says:

This Law [Dharma] is inexpressible,
It is beyond the realm of terms;
Among all the other living beings
None can apprehend it
Except the bodhisattvas
Who are firm in the power of faith.[19][1]

And thus we see that in both Christianity and Buddhism the idea of faith is important to help us live a fulfilling life.  We all have faith in somethings and people and not in others.  How hard it is to “keep the faith” in times of trouble, stress, and doubt.  And yet if we believe in our self, in our capacity to love, to think, and to learn all things are possible.

Remember “all things are possible to those who believe.” For those who do not “believe” nothing is possible.  You can only work up to your level of belief in life whether it is in education, employment, or love.  If you cannot see yourself doing it, attaining it or gaining it –it will always be outside your grasp.

The skies the limit for those who believe and without hesitation move forward one step at a time toward it!  Think back upon a time when you had doubt—what happened?  Now think back upon a time when you had faith—what happened?   Cady writes, “In some way, then, we understand that whatever we want is in this surrounding invisible substance, and faith is the power that can bring it out into actuality to us.”

So stay “firm in the power of faith” don’t walk toward it—run toward it and it will meet you beyond the horizon of doubt and mistrust!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faith_in_Buddhism#Faith_as_refuge

[1] Cady, H. E. (1903) Lessons in Truth. Unity Village, MO: Unity Books

 

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Once again I will attempt to unwind the mystery of the Heart Sutra this time lines three and four, “Clearly saw emptiness of all the five conditions. Thus completely relieving misfortune and pain.”  I am again helped by the authors of two wonderful books Living by Vow a Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts written by Shohaku Okumura and Emptiness, Relativity and Quantum Physics by the Dali Lama.  So let’s begin this wonderful adventure!

Okumura writes, “In every moment we must awaken again to the impermanent reality of our lives.  Everything is always changing, and there is no substance.  In Mahayana Buddhism, this is called emptiness (page 136).” [1]

The Buddha said that “nothing is fixed, and there is nothing that doesn’t change.”[2]

The Dali Lama in his book Emptiness, Relativity and Quantum Physics wrote:

Thus, there are no subjects without the objects by which they are defined, there are no objects without subjects to apprehend them, there are no doers without things done.  There is no chair without legs, a seat, a back, wood, nails, the floor on which it rests, the walls that define the room it’s in, the people who constructed it, and the individuals who agree to call it a chair and recognize it as something to sit on.  Not only is the existence of things and events utterly contingent but, according to this principle, their very identities are thoroughly dependent upon others.[3]

And so, I could cut down the legs and cut off the back of the chair, if I so choose, and turn it into a coffee table, and when I no longer needed it for that purpose I could break it up and use it for fire wood, that would turn it into smoke and ash. Then it could be mixed into the garden compost pile and turned into fertilizer to help grow my beautiful tomatoes for the summer salad.

This clearly demonstrates the impermanence of all “things” and thus their intrinsic emptiness. So letting go of my desire to control things, people, and places I relieve myself of misfortune and pain—for their emptiness will appear to me soon enough and I will see the change in them with an open heart and mind.

Okumura goes on to say the following:

We can make a peaceful, stable foundation for our lives.  It’s called nirvana.  It is not a particular state or condition of our minds but rather a way of life based on impermanence and egolessness.  The Buddha taught that there are two different ways of living.  If we are blind to the reality of egolessness and impermanence, our life becomes suffering.  If we waken to this reality and live accordingly, our life becomes nirvana.  This awakening is called Bodhi or enlightenment (page 136).”[4]

Thus nirvana or enlightenment is not a place that you go like sitting on a cloud in heaven in a children’s story book.  It is a place to live today where our ego recognizes that all things change in body: physically; in mind: emotionally; in brain: through learning and creating new synapses; and finally, in my heart: through the wonder of wisdom.

Thus each day I am born anew. And so, I release the old ideas, ways, and limitations and am open and receptive to embrace the miracle and joy of seeing the emptiness of all five conditions and the impermanence in my life so I can be relieved of my misfortune and pain—if not forever, at least for today!

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin seeing the impermanence in all things today.

2.  I will remind myself that doing this can help make a peaceful stable foundation for my life—or nirvana.

3.  I will remember to release the old ideas, ways, and limitations in my life and be open to allow new exciting things to appear.

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 Text. Wisdom Publications.: Somerville, MA

[2] Ibid.

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

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When was the last time you went on a hike and were able to actually enter into a physical stream?  When was the last time you felt the water rushing over your feet or shoes and toes and ankles?  When was the last time you heard the noise of the rush of the water over the rocks and pebbles and the cacophony of sounds that it produced?  That may just be the last time you and “prajna” were one.

So what is prajna anyway? “Prajna, consciousness or wisdom in Mahayana Buddhism refers to an immediately experienced intuitive wisdom that cannot be conveyed by concepts or in intellectual terms. The definitive moment of prajna is insight into emptiness, which is the true nature of reality (page 171)”[1]

One of my “prajna” moments occurred many years ago in the Colorado Rockies hiking with a friend—the water was so pure we could drink from it and refresh our bodies, minds, and spirits and all it seemed to take was just one cold crisp handful. For hours no words needed to be spoken as we immersed ourselves in the beauty of the forest and its insentient capacity to answer all our questions and fulfill all our needs.

Dogen says, “To dedicate yourself and take refuge in the manifestation of prajna is to see and uphold the Buddha, the World-Honored One.  It is to be the Buddha, the World-Honored One, seeing and accepting (page 65).”[2] For students of other paths it may be seeing and accepting the Christ, or Mohammad, or Krishna, or Kwan Yin all honored ones amongst their followers.  How you get there is not the point, the point is simply getting there.  As if “there” was someplace to get, which there is not. But on the physical plane we always think of it that way.

Since prajna cannot be conveyed in concepts or intellectual terms it is important for us to take time each day to simply experience the moment in which we are living.  Regardless of what we are doing in that moment: eating, shopping, bathing, singing, sitting, walking, or cleaning—be there fully, wholly, and unabashedly!

Enlightenment is not some “place” that you go to or get to—it is right here, right now. So if you are still waiting for just the right meditation, sitting, sesshin, prayer, teacher, time, or location you’re going to miss it.  You’ve taken your eyes off the ball—life—and the multitude of opportunities you will be given today to enter into the stream.

Intimate with everything I see,

Walking, sitting, and lying down are truth itself.

If someone asks the inner meaning:

“The treasury of the dharma eye in a speck of dust.”

–Dogen (page 172)[3]

Be here now.

upaya-gold-buddha-Doshin

Upaya Gold Buddha

Photo by my teacher, Mitch Doshin Cantor

http://www.listeningwiththeeye.squarespace.com

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day being “intimate with everything I see” and everything I do.

2.  I will remind myself that prajna is not a place to go, but is an experience.

3.  I will remember that I am in charge of my experiences and not the circumstances that I find myself in.

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] Kohn, M. H, Editor, The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, Shambhala Dragon Editions (1991) , Boston, MA

[2] Tanahashi, K. Levitt, P. (2013) The Essential Dogen, Writings of the Great Zen Master. Shambhala: Boston, MA

[3] ibid

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I am so excited to begin writing about “The Three Pure Precepts” they are simple yet powerful maxims to live by.  Robert Aitken in his book The Mind of Clover (1984) writes, “In Mahayana Buddhism, these lines underwent change reflecting a shift from the ideal of personal perfection to the ideal of oneness with all beings.  The last line was dropped, and the third rewritten:

 [Zen Buddhism-Dhammapada]

Renounce all evil;

Practice all good;

Keep your mind pure—

thus all the Buddhas taught.

                [Mahayana Buddhism]

Renounce all evil;

Practice all good;

                Save the many beings (page 4).”

I’ll begin with the first verse.  For each of us the word “evil” will mean something different.  For some our religious beliefs say that consuming alcohol is evil and that a person who loves someone of the same sex is evil.  Thus, is the conundrum: How do I define the word for myself and for others? How do I know it when I see it?  How can I stop it when it is coming from and through me?

For some things the word “evil” is a little too strong and that may allow us to be rude, or critical, or thoughtless and still “believe” that we are upholding the Pure Precept of “renouncing all evil.” This happens because many times we are only willing to see it when it is coming from others but not from ourselves.  For sure, evil is in the eye of the receiver.  If you were the receiver of these words or actions how would you feel? What would you do?  Since we are working toward being “one with all others” I imagine it might be very painful. If you are practicing mindfulness you will pause and listen to your thoughts and observe your behavior and then you can make the judgment as to whether or not these words or actions directed at the “other” might be considered “evil.”  Being mindful gives you the opportunity to choose to either continue or to stop.

 Another great way to “renounce all evil” is to practice the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” When I read this in a Dharma talk by Roshi James Ismael[1] it rang a bell for me and I thought, “What a great idea!” If I include this maxim in my life it will help me to pause when I think evil thoughts or are contemplating evil deeds.  In that moment of pause I will be able to reflect upon my next words or actions and choose to renounce them and take a different path. If I start each morning with my mind set on being one with all sentient beings I would be kinder and gentler.  Doing this just may help me be less critical at home or at work with myself and others.

To save the many beings may mean saving them from you with your negativity in behavior and thinking.  It also may mean saving you from your own negative thinking and recriminations.  This too is a part of the violation of the vow that we take to “renounce all evil” evil to self and others!

So this week our task is to begin working on The Three Pure Precepts beginning with #1.

Things to focus on this week:

1.       Set your intention each morning to practice the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”  live a life where being one with all others is reflected in your thoughts, words, and actions.

2.       Define the word “evil” for yourself.

3.       Be mindful throughout the day and listen to your thoughts and observe your behavior then determine if those words or actions directed at the “other” or at “yourself” might be considered “evil.”

4.       Finally, keep a journal on this precept and make note of how learning to “renounce all evil” in thoughts, words, and actions is affecting your life.


[1] Reflections on the Three Pure Precepts
A Dharma talk by Roshi James Ishmael Ford, 3 June 2002
Henry Thoreau Sangha, Boundless Way Zen
http://www.boundlesswayzen.org/teishos/threepureteisho.html

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