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Posts Tagged ‘Paramitas’

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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Wow!  This is a really big subject and I have to write something brilliant in 900 words or less…Yikes.  I am possessive of everything from my purse to my relationships, to my clothes, and my car.  How about the furniture I spent so much time picking out and waiting for that sale to buy it?  What about my friend if I see him or her enjoying the company of someone else without being included?  Goodness, don’t forget the place that you sit in the Zendo each time?  Feels like I could go on and on for at least 500 words on this list alone–but I won’t!

The thing about my possessions is that they end up possessing me—it is not the other way around.  I had to move in with my mother a few months back due to her Alzheimer’s disease and then I had to give up some of my “stuff” because it would not fit in her two bedroom apartment, which was already filled with her stuff, I was in a quandary.  So I left a lot of the things in the apartment that I had been sharing with a friend.  Then my friend had to move!  Now what?! So I really had to decide what possessions I was willing to give up, which ones I “could” give up, and which ones I just “had” to hold on to…not sure for what reason but the urge was there.

Believe me when I tell you that I have been a corporate trainer, teacher, and college professor for over 25 years and I filled up two giant recycle bins with files, papers, tests, handouts, and more!  It took me 2 days to go through them all and to dwindle the “to keep” pile down to one small box from the moving section at Home Depot.  Did I possess them or did they possess me? So now I think I’ve got it…I’ve mastered this possession “thing” and I am able to throw things out, release them, and let them go.

Oh yeah! Then I opened Reb Anderson’s book and Robert Aitkin’s book and I read from Reb, “Even if you do not hold onto ordinary things of the world, the merit of that is insignificant compared with the merit of not avariciously holding onto dharma treasure (page 168).”[1]  So, when I finally make a breakthrough in my sitting, or in my demonstration of compassion, or showing unconditional love and patience and am feeling great about my successes in my practice I have to give that up too!  So what can I keep?

Robert writes about Hui-hai. He says, “When Hui-hai was asked about entering the Tao, he said we enter by the danaparamita, the perfection of relinquishment, the perfection of giving over (page 83).”[2]  He goes on to say, “When the Buddha held forth a flower before his assembly, that was a full and complete presentation of the entire universe and of all the teachings of all the Buddhas and Ancestral Teachers (page 85).”  And what did the Buddha do with that flower, he immediately gave it away!

There is great wisdom in the eternal idea of giving things away—any and all things.  Meister Eckhart said, “To give a thousand marks of gold to build a church or a cloister would be a great thing, but to give a thousand marks for nothing at all would be a far greater gift (page 83)”[3]

Looks like I’m stuck with giving it all up, giving up the good of giving, giving up the pride of giving, giving up the self-righteousness of giving, and giving up the giving up.  Now does that mean that I can’t collect things, ideas, or good deeds?  Not at all simply get them and at the same time release them and let them go.  In Unity we had an affirmation that said, “I release it and let it go to find its highest good elsewhere.”  Or you could say him or her in place of the pronoun it.  So yes you can give and receive!  So give away—just don’t give with the idea of attachment—of getting something in return.  And if you can’t figure all of this out—you may want to give up  trying! That may be the best “give away” of all…

To this “flower” I bow, three full bows…for no reason at all.

Things to focus on this week:

  •  Step one: Begin simply by giving up whatever needs to be released each and every moment of the day: ideas, thoughts, things, people, emotions etc.
  • Step two: Set your intention to release and let go of your attachment to either “having it” or “releasing it.”
  • Step three: Accept the Buddha’s help throughout this process.
  • 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.

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

[3] Ibid.

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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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Mitsunen Roku (Lou Nordstrom) one of the most loveable and outstanding teachers in our linage of Zen Buddhism wrote a wonderful little book entitled Essays in Zen Daoism (2010).  In it he has a chapter entitled “On Being Honest,” and boy is he honest about being honest!  He writes, “Freud was right: human beings have an almost infinite capacity for self-deception, and nowhere is this more prominent than in the pervasive, perennial need to believe in a ‘higher, spiritual nature. (page 71)’”

For me this is a reason to continue learning, searching, and seeking that “higher spiritual nature” for it just may be there and my lower personality or human frailties may just be a temporary state of consciousness.  Whether or not we believe there is a “higher spiritual nature” is up to each of us.  We may not have the conviction of Mitsunen Roku when he writes, “We would like to think of ourselves as bodhisattvas committed to the salvation or liberation of all beings.  Honestly, how much do you really care about the suffering of others?  What sort of negative emotions do you actually feel about other human beings?  What do you honestly feel about the one you love?  Catullus said, ‘I love, and I hate; and I am torn in two.’ That’s honesty! (page 72).”

Being truthful with self is probably more difficult than being truthful with others.  At least it is for me!  My mother is one of those inherently honest people.  She would not take even a penny if it did not belong to her.  She has a vivid sense of right and wrong, truth and lies.  So I guess I got some of it from her.  But I often find myself being untruthful with myself.  I tell myself things like, “Don’t worry eating this piece of cake won’t add a single pound to your waistline if you just eat it mindfully.”  Or how about this one:  Driving over the speed limit is okay because it is more important to be on time to Zen to help set up.

He writes, “Be honest about the nature of the motivation behind your practice (page 72).” Who cares what you practice for or which practice you decide to take up?  You can be a great Catholic, Buddhist, Atheist, or Theosophists as long as you are truthful to yourself about why you practice the principles, truthful to yourself about why you believe what you believe, truthful to yourself about why you act the way you act because of those principles.

He quotes Bodhidharma who said, “Vast emptiness, no holiness!” The fantasy of a higher nature is about holiness, sacred as opposed to profane reality.  Bodhidharma didn’t speak of Buddha-nature, true nature, essential nature; he said, in a spirit of radical honesty, ‘I KNOW NOT!’ Do you honestly know who or what you are (page 71)?”  Yeah, if you do!  Yeah, if you don’t!

This week our practice is on truthfulness. Regardless, of whether we do or don’t honestly know who or what we are today is a great day to begin looking at our lives and seeing how truthful we are to others and to ourselves.  We all need to examine our lives with open eyes.  However, we need not be critical of what we find, but we do need to be open to an occasional “AH HA.”  Then decide what you want to do about it, if anything.  Sometimes it is cruel to be truthful to someone who may think they look great in that chartreuse shirt or blouse, sometimes the person may be better served if we let him or her know in a kind and loving way that this may not be his or her best color choice.  Let the person know what looks great on them and tell them why.

Life is a challenge, living a life of truthfulness is an even greater challenge.  So when the times get tough just know you are in good company with Bodhidharma and just admit “I know not!”  Then do what your heart tells you is right and honest and truthful with compassion and love and you can’t go wrong with that!

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In spring colors there is no high nor low
Some flowering branches are by nature long, some short (Harada, page 5).

 When I read this in Shodo Harada’s beautiful book Moon by the Window (2011) it reminded me of the patience of spring waiting to appear after a long and difficult winter of snow and ice and cold.  It did not push itself in before its time, but waited patiently for the earth to get in just the right position when all the elements were perfect for new birth and growth.

When was the last time we waited with patience for anything?  Our society is so filled with hurry- up and rushes and to-do lists and must-do lists we find it difficult to take even a few moments each day to sit quietly and simply observe our breath.  Or to watch a flower bloom or to see a bird as it patiently follows the wind and the sun moving north and south with the seasons, instinctively knowing what the right time is.

Daily we are given the opportunity to show patience in our lives.  Some of us lose our patience while driving down the road when the car in front of us does not move fast enough, or is moving too fast and may cut us off to get ahead of us because he or she thinks we are driving to slowly.  How many times have you rushed through a meal only to get indigestion?  How many times have you finished a meal and you don’t even remember what you ate?

Are you someone who starts out each week wishing your life away?  How many times have you said, “Boy, I can’t wait until the weekend”?  Or how about, “Will this meeting ever get over I have so many things to do”?

For some of us it is a personality type, they used to call it Type “A” behavior.  But I call it Type “P” behavior!  We are missing the “Patience” gene!  The one that allows us to simply enjoy the moment in which we are living.  The sad thing is that this moment will never appear again and we may have missed a wonderful, beautiful, or mind awakening thing in the process.

During the time I have been writing this blog post my mother has entered the room several times impatiently needing my attention and so I stopped, thought about the topic and with “patience” helped her.  Living with a family member with special needs, be it Alzheimer’s or other mental or physical disability gives us plenty of time to practice patience.  It is not easy at times and I do lose my temper or get upset, but each day as I practice the 10 Paramitas it just gets a little easier and easier.  My “P” gene is showing up more and more!  How about yours?

Many years ago I had the privilege to work in Spain doing training for a multinational firm and I was shocked about the schedule with which we did our training. It was nothing like what we do in America.  In the U.S. we start between 8 and 9 a.m. and end between 4 and 5 p.m. with two short breaks and a lunch.  In Spain they started at 10, took a coffee break at 11 and went for a two hour lunch between 2 and 4 and ended at 6 p.m.  Wow!  What a difference.  They all think American’s are crazy with the number of hours we put in at work and how few vacation days we take each year.  The Spaniards know how to have patience, relax, and enjoy life!

This week let us practice being more like them and growing the “P” Gene!  Find some time each day to practice patience with yourself and with others.  Find some time to simply sit, simply watch the grass grow, or the snow fall, or play with your kids, your dogs or your cats.  Each time that monkey mind interrupts with your to-do list just let it go by and simply keep on sitting or playing or watching the grass grow or the snow fall.  Then ask yourself how you felt in mind, body, and spirit when you gave the “P” Gene a little chance to grow.

This is just like the plant you tried to grow in the paper cup in grade school.  If you pulled out the seed everyday it would not grow, once you saw it sprouting if you pulled out the small growth you would have killed it.  You probably can hear your teacher asking you to have patience and soon enough you’d see results.  And guess what —you did!

What results would you like to see in your life today?  With patience they just might appear!

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We continue our series on the 10 Paramitas with Energy called Virya Paramita: Perfection of Energy.  The idea of the power of energy in our lives appears in Buddhism, Taoism, and metaphysics frequently.

Charles Fillmore, co-founder of the Unity movement, wrote frequently about energy. He taught that each of us has 12 powers which are related to the 12 disciples and one of them is the power of zeal which resides in the back of the head at the base of the neck and is represented by the disciple Simon who was often referred to as the zealot. Charles invited us to try a simple technique to increase our energy.  He said when you feel a lack of energy give a good massage with your fingers to the area where the head and neck meet, and it will quickly help bring back your energy.  Stop for a second and give it a try—test it out to see if it works now and anytime when you feel you need a little burst of energy.

At the age of 94 Charles Fillmore wrote this affirmation, “I fairly sizzle with zeal and enthusiasm to do the work that is mine to do.”  I sure hope I can feel that way when I am 94!

In Charles’ book The Twelve Powers of Man he wrote, “Zeal is the mighty force that incites the winds, the tides, the storms; it urges the planet on its course, and spurs the ant to great exertion.  To be without zeal is to be without the zest of living.  Zeal and enthusiasm incite to glorious achievement in every aim and ideal that the mind conceives.  Zeal is the impulse to go forward, the urge behind all things.  Without zeal stagnation, inertia, death would prevail throughout the universe.  The man without zeal is like an engine without steam or an electric motor without a current.  Energy is zeal in motion, and energy is the forerunner of every effect.”

In Buddhism we talk about energy this way: “Virya is energy or zeal. It comes from an ancient Indian-Iranian word that means “hero,” and it is also the root of the English word “virile.” So, virya paramita is about making a courageous, heroic effort to realize enlightenment. To practice virya paramita, we first develop our own character and courage. We engage in spiritual training. And then we dedicate our fearless efforts to the benefit of others.[i]

“In the case of Taoist practice, it is the effort, vigor, and diligence applied to our spiritual path. It is a kind of zeal or exertion, a fearless brave activity, which supports us in overcoming the various obstacles that inevitably present themselves — whether our practice is a martial art, qigong, sitting meditation, calligraphy, recitation and ritual … or anything else.[ii]

Each of us at some time or another may need to bring zeal, energy, and enthusiasm into our life.  It really does not matter where you live, what job you do, or situation in life you are currently in, because life without zeal, enthusiasm, and energy is flat, boring, and nonproductive.  Since we are given such a short time on this planet it might be a great thing to realize our full potential and have the mind, body, and spirit energy to do the things we have come here to do.

For some it may be living a life of work in the business world, for others it may be public service, or teaching or the medical field or being a stay-at-home mom or dad, and yet for some others they may be in unique living circumstances where their days are planned for them not by them.  Regardless of which circumstance you may be in take control of your life and direct your zeal, energy, and enthusiasm to the matters at hand.

How about doing the dishes, cooking, walking, eating, reading, studying, or meditating with an enthusiasm that sends electricity through you and fills the air around you?  I have known people like that and when you stepped into their presence you knew there was something special about them, even though you may not have been able to put your finger on just what it was!

Enthusiasm in life is catchy!  Many years ago I worked in Community Theater with a man who was so fantastic his characters were so real; his dedication to the script and the play was incredible.  He left the audience mesmerized.  And when you worked with him your acting was brought up a hundred fold.  It was fantastic!  I caught his love for live theater and have never lost it.  His enthusiasm was catchy!

Imagine what a wonderful world this would be if we did everything, even the most minute and maybe even boring thing, with zeal, energy, and enthusiasm: ZEE.  Think of the little ant that Charles wrote about—that ant can carry from 20-50 times its weight, so the scientists say.  Now that’s energy backed by zeal and enthusiasm!

Imagine if you filled your life with ZEE and you could SEE life through that lens.  How about seeing people, chores, places, and things through the lens of ZEE just think how happy you could BEE!  Remember the little ant: if he can—so can you! Try it out this week and let me know what you SEE!

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Today we continue our adventure into the 10 Paramitas with Wisdom.  What is the difference between Wisdom and knowledge? The dictionary defines knowledge as understanding gained through experience or study.  Wisdom is defined as understanding of what is true, right, or lasting. Sylvia Boorstein, in her book Pay Attention for Goodness Sake, writes, “To develop Wisdom, it doesn’t matter what mind state is present.  It only matters that you know what is present (page 108).”

In ancient times Wisdom was an attribute of the feminine and was represented by Sophia.  “Sophia, the Greek translation of the Hebrew “Hochmah” is the feminine personification of Wisdom in the Pentateuch.  She is neither a goddess nor a new age creation of feminist theologians.  She was a real biblical person with more material on her in the OT (with Apocrypha) than anyone in the scriptures, except God, Job, Moses and David.”1  The great and powerful Solomon when he prayed for Wisdom knew that it came from Sophia.

Each of us has the Wisdom of Sophia right within us at every moment throughout eternity.  That is why when the dictionary defines Wisdom it does not indicate where you acquired the understanding of what is true, right, or lasting.  Wisdom is there for each of us if we just open our minds to that Divine Idea.  When my students would be studying for a big test I would always tell them that if all else failed the pencil had the answer.  They would laugh and some of them would think I had lost my mind.  And they may have been right: Lost it in the mind of Sophia.

“She is the ‘woman clothed with the sun,’ who brings the blazing light of knowledge.  Sophia is the embodiment of all wisdom, and it is she who urges us to know, to understand.  She leads the willing soul out of ignorance and blesses those who study and endeavor to know her.  In the words of Solomon: ‘I prayed and understanding was given me: I called upon God and the spirit of Wisdom came to me. I loved Her above health and beauty, and chose to have Her instead of light, for the light that cometh from Her never goeth out.’  Sophia is the deepest part of ourselves–that part can grasp in an instant the mysteries of the ages.”2

There is truth in that statement about the pencil.  For Sophia lives in each of us regardless of whether we have the body of a male or a female.  “Behold that I have not laboured for myself only, but for all them that seek Wisdom.”  She holds all people sacred and will give her Wisdom to anyone who calls upon her. The Buddha lived this life that Sophia talked about each and every day.  He may not have called upon Sophia when he was sitting under the Bodhi tree seeking and finding Wisdom of the universe right within him and within everything: the stars, the sun, the moon, the universe all that is, but he found her nonetheless.

Wisdom is greater than knowledge or intellect because Wisdom comes from something well beyond knowledge or humanity, you can name it something or nothing.  Giving it a name does not lesson the power of Wisdom in the universe or in us.  But we so often overlook it.  Throughout time philosophers have tried to understand the nature of Wisdom and how to achieve it.  They saw Wisdom in the people around them even before books, Bibles, the Sutras, the internet, and talk radio!  How could that be?  Because the Wisdom is not in the pencil, the ink, or the person, Wisdom moves through us as it does through all living things. Look for Wisdom in nature, be observant, and be conscious when you walk, drive, eat, work, dance and sing. It is everywhere!  We can tap into it at any time.  We have been told, seek and you shall find.  The Buddha did and so can you!

If you take the time today to stop and ask for Wisdom in each and every situation that you are dealing with, then sit in the silence for as long as you can and simply listen–your answers will appear.  It is said that Thomas Edison would take a coin and place it in his hand, he would then lay down on a bench in his laboratory and think about the problem or the question.  He would take a nap, and when the coin fell to the ground it would wake him up.  Then he would reach for his pencil and write down whatever thoughts were there.  It was invariably the answer to his problem.  If Thomas Edison could us this technique so can you.

Meditate on Wisdom today and every day this week.  Take the time to be like Thomas Edison when you have a problem at work or at home.  Listen for the still small voice within you and then write its message down, then follow through with the ideas that have been given to you.  Let me know what Wisdom you discovered!

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