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Posts Tagged ‘Sandokai’

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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The subtle source is clear and bright,
The branching streams flow in the dark.
To be attached to things is primordial illusion;
To encounter the absolute is not yet enlightenment.

For me the first verse is clear that no matter what or where our inner Buddha is it is clear and bright at all times regardless of whether we feel as though we are in the darkness or the light of the situation. How many times have we thought that we were in the pit of hell emotionally, spiritually, or psychologically and yet soon we pulled ourselves up and out and discovered that what we experienced gave us some power or insight that we would not otherwise have gained.

Life is a system of “branching streams” in which one branch may lead us to Zen, another to a good job or relationship, and yet another to a disastrous situation in our lives. Each has a lesson for us to absorb as we encounter the ups and downs of living on planet earth. Each is a teacher, a revealer, a mentor, a friend, or an enemy. All, in Zen, are there for our enlightenment. And yet “to be attached to any of them is “primordial illusion.” And when we have had that “kensho” or enlightenment experience we are still the same person.

Regardless of what we think or feel about the experience when it is over we still have to do the dishes!

Many years ago I had a “kensho” experience when doing a fire walk during a weekend retreat with Rev. Edwene Gaines and it was magnificent. For a second I was everything—the trees, the grass, the sky, the moon, the stars, the wind, everything. But when that nanosecond was over there I was—me and my physical body standing with all of my faults and foibles—in the forest beneath the trees. And I still had to walk back to the sleeping quarters and brush my teeth before I went to bed. Da gone it!

The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen describes this experience thus:

Kensho “seeing nature;” Zen expression for the experience of awakening (enlightenment). Since the meaning is “seeing one’s own true nature,” “kensho” is usually translated “self-realization.” Like all words that try to reduce the conceptually ungraspable experience of enlightenment to a concept, this one is also not entirely accurate and is even misleading since the experience contains no duality of “seer” and “seen” because there is no “nature of self” as an object that is seen by a subject separate from it (page 115).[1]

For that nanosecond there was no “seer” or “seen.” And yet my life went on with its ups and downs, its many branches and streams leading me to Buddhism and my subsequent ordination as a Zen Priest. So each day I sit quietly calming my mind, body, and spirit. Not to seek another “kensho” but to find a place within me where peace, love, and compassion exists without me thinking about it, looking for it, or waiting upon it. Just This! Knowing that whatever “This” is will be right and perfect for the moment. And if not right and perfect so what! Because to be attached to things is primordial illusion and to encounter “the absolute is not yet enlightenment” as my experience in the forest all those many years ago demonstrated. I’ve been a fool many times since and may be again soon, maybe even right now.

Take some time, when you can, to think about these verses and make a plan for some actions that will help you to be a little less foolish today.  My plan begins right now…I hope you’ll join me.
MY PLAN OF ACTION:

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, (1991) Shambhala Dragon Editions: Boston, MA

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The mind of the great sage of India

Is intimately conveyed west and east.

Among human beings are wise ones and fools;

In the way, there is no ancestor of north or south.

These are the first four verses of this 37 verse sutra known as the “Sandokai: The Identity of Relative and Absolute.” They let us know that the mind of this great “sage of India” has no physical boundaries regardless of whether you live east or west of India. Regardless of the fact that he lived over 2,500 years ago. His teachings transcend the physical and enter into the four directions and all worlds: physical, mental, emotional, and ethereal.

As is written we are at times wise and we know when those thoughts and actions appear. They are spontaneous and kind and magnanimous, and sometimes even surprise ourselves. And we also know when we are being a fool and those are even easier to see! Just look at the expression on the face of the person to whom you are acting foolishly! And yet when we act mindlessly we may not recognize either our wisdom or our foolishness.

So this week we will work on being mindful of our thoughts, actions, and words. Let’s look out for the impact they have on others. A passing remark can either cut like a knife or heal like an antibiotic. It can empower others or disempower them.

We forget that we have the mind of the Buddha right within us and that we need not go anywhere to find it, we need not search for it by moving to India, or Japan, or Tibet. It is with us wherever we go and manifests in every word, thought, and action. If this is true why don’t we listen for those words of wisdom, love, and compassion? Why don’t we awaken to this teaching that resides in all directions—north, south, east, and west and within us? What is holding us back?

Only you know the answer to these questions. Only you can sit and find the Buddha within you. Only you can make the decision to live a life of mindfulness, of being present in every moment. Only you can set aside time to read and contemplate the simple principles beneath all the world’s great religions and philosophies. In reality they are all the same and contain one simple message: Treat people the way you want to be treated.

The Golden Rule (from some but not all of the world’s religions/philosophies):
Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways you yourself would find hurtful.” Udana-Varga, 5:18
Christianity: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12
Confucianism: “Do not unto others what you do not want them to do to you.” Analects 15:13
Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” The Mahabharata, 5:1517
Islam: “Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” Fortieth Hadith of an-Nawawi, 13
Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor that is the whole of the Torah; all the rest of it is commentary.” Talmud, Shabbat, 31a
Taoism: “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” Tai Shang Kan Ying P’ien

And so around the world the words of the Sandokai live in all traditions in simple and easy to understand words, and yet from moment to moment they often seem not so easy to live! Let’s make a plan for ourselves this week to live the Golden Rule in mind, body, and spirit. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others—in words, thoughts, and deeds. Then sit back and watch your world transform until you realize the Buddha and you are one in the same!

MY PLAN OF ACTION:

Once you’ve written your plan let me know how it goes!

In gassho, Shokai

ingassho

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