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Posts Tagged ‘Shohaku Okumura’

The next lines of the Heart Sutra that I will be writing about in Part IV are below:

O Shariputra, all dharmas are forms of emptiness,
Not born, not destroyed;
Not stained, not pure,
Without loss, without gain:
So in emptiness there is no form,
No sensation, conception, discrimination, awareness;

Shohaku Okumura in his wonderful book Living by Vow A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts, writes this about emptiness:

When we say form is emptiness, we negate this body and mind.  When we understand that emptiness is form, we negate emptiness.  Negate means to let go.  To let go of thought means to become free from both sides.  Then we can see reality from both perspectives without being attached to either.  The wisdom of Avalokitesvara is the Middle Way that includes both sides.  It is not something in between this side and that.  From the middle path we see reality from both views, relative and absolute.  We simultaneously negate and affirm both sides.  To let go of thought means to become free from both perspectives and simply be in the middle (reality) (page 154).”[1]

Wow, for me this is a very difficult thing to do.  I have opinions about everything and live my life usually from one side, the left, and the philosophy of Emerson and Thoreau’s Walden Pond. One of my favorite pieces by Emerson was his graduation talk at Harvard that got him kicked out and was not to be invited back to the campus for many, many years.

So it is a challenge for me to be able to do as Okumura says, “become free from both perspectives and simply be in the middle (reality).”  But when we use mindfulness and meditation as a center for our lives it can become easier and easier each day.

My friend Dan Huston, has written a wonderful book that is being used in colleges to teach a different kind of communication skills, Communicating Mindfully, Mindfulness-Based Communication and Emotional Intelligence. He writes about a young student of his who found an opportunity to use what he taught her—merging mindfulness and communication skills—during a speech that one of her classmates was giving on a subject that she held the opposite view point.  The techniques worked and after the class she was able to have a very serious but mindful conversation with her classmate.

Dan wrote:

“That is an important distinction because mindfulness meditation is not about picking and choosing what we want; it is about accepting the reality of each and every moment and making a distinction between what is really happening in those circumstances and what we layer on top of it with our reactions—in this case, the circumstances of her reality were growing potentially hostile because of the addition of Jill’s [the speaker] anger and frustration.  Fortunately, she [the listener and mindfulness communication student] was able to recognize those feelings as they emerged.  She accepted them but did not encourage them with self-talk that could have fueled the fire within her; consequently, those emotions were not allowed to grow in intensity.  She noticed them, and let them go (page 239).[2]

Remember what Okamura said: To let go of thought means to become free from both perspectives and simply be in the middle (reality). So the next time you get the opportunity to listen remind yourself of what Stahl and Goldstein recommend in their mindfulness training manual A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, “We all want to be heard. It’s essential to feeling understood, accepted, and loved.  When we sense that others are truly listening, our fears and defenses tend to fade away, paving the way for greater connection, empathy, and peace in the relationship (page 164).”[3]  And it helps us live the middle (reality) way—without loss, without gain!

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin listening in the “middle way” to everyone I meet.

2.  I will remind myself that doing this can help me create greater connections, empathy and peace in all of my relationships.

3.  When I get stuck I will remember that I can “negate” those thoughts, I can let them go, and free myself from “both sides.”

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] Huston, D. (2010) Communicating Mindfully Mindfulness-Based Communication and Emotional Intelligence. Cengage Learning: Mason, Ohio

[3] Stahl, B. and Goldstein, E. (2010) A Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Workbook. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.: Oakland, CA

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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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This sutra or scripture is one of the most important sutras in our tradition.  We chant this sutra every Saturday morning in our service.  It is a great chant that focuses on the teachings of Buddhism.  As a beginner it can be very confusing and sometimes mind boggling so in this new series of mine I will attempt to unwind the mystery of the Heart Sutra.   I am 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 The Heart Sutra Translation and Commentary by Red Pine.  So let’s begin this wonderful adventure!

The first four verses are as follows:

 Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva
Doing deep Prajna Paramita,
Clearly saw emptiness of all the five conditions,
Thus completely relieving misfortune and pain.

Wow, that sounds like a big promise to all of us who take many opportunities to spend a significant portion of our lives focusing on “misfortune and pain.” So these lines are significant they are letting us know that what will be shared in this sutra could help keep us from focusing our attention, time, and energy in that direction.  The majority of the world would like to do this and those who enjoy wallowing in their “misfortune and pain” might just as well stop reading now and move on with their day.

Who is Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, Red Pine says in some Sanskrit texts bodhisattva’s name “was translated into Chinese as Kuan-yin, meaning “He/She Who Looks Down Upon Sound (Cries).  . . .For the sound of this bodhisattva’s name has the power to echo through the universe and to make visible all who hear it, recite it, or recollect it.  And as Avalokitesvara becomes aware of them, they are graced by this bodhisattva’s infinite compassion (pages 44- 45).”[1]

Thus, Avalokitesvara has become known for the one who gives compassion to the world, which is a beautiful reason to name this the “Heart Sutra.”  For me all compassion comes from the heart, often times our compassion makes no sense to others.  It is beyond logic, reason, or knowledge, but streams forth from the wisdom of the heart.  As Shohaku Okumura writes, “Prajna means “wisdom.” Wisdom and compassion are the two main aspects of Buddhism and must always go together.  Without wisdom, compassion doesn’t work, and without compassion wisdom has no meaning; it’s not alive (page 134).”[2]

I am sure that everyone reading this has experienced from another or given to someone compassion under the most unique situation, one where others were saying—are you nuts!  Maybe the person did something unthinkable, or incomprehensible, or unkind, or even criminal, but yet you saw in his or her heart goodness beyond the act or the moment and you were overwhelmed with compassion.  That is Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva alive in you as you. Although this may not have “completely” relieved the misfortune or pain it may have helped in minimizing its affects, future actions, or negative thoughts and allowed you to maintain compassion for the person or for yourself.

I had a student many years ago that had a most unspeakable crime committed against herself and her person and after much prayer and meditation on forgiveness was able to completely forgive her assailant and move on with her life in a loving and compassionate way to him and all others. That is Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva alive and well on planet earth.

As we move through this sutra we will slowly take each section and examine how we can benefit by chanting it and incorporating the teachings into our lives.  Our ultimate goal in Buddhism is “to save all sentient beings.”  To do this we must think and act with compassion and wisdom like Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva today and every day.

I have given you plenty to do and plenty to think about so we will focus on “the emptiness of all five conditions” next time.  See you then!

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day like Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva offering compassion to all sentient beings.

2.  I will remind myself that wisdom and compassion must go together.

3.  I will remember that wisdom is not knowledge, wisdom comes from above—it does not reside in the brain.

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] Red Pine (2004) The Heart Sutra Translation and Commentary. Counterpoint: Berkeley, CA

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

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So what is the vow anyway?  There are various translations of the bodhisattva vow, sometimes called the four vows, the way we say it at our Southern Palm Zen Group sangha is below:

Creations are numberless, I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them.
Reality is boundless, I vow to perceive it.
The Enlightened Way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it.

As you can tell by the words above in many life times we would not be able to free every being on the planet, nor would we be able to transform all of our daily delusions about life.  Plus knowing that reality is relative to the person, country, culture, and more makes it “unknowable” as well, and finally becoming enlightened is rare indeed.  Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has self-actualization at the top of the pyramid and it has probably only been attained by a few people ever on planet earth.  And I am not one of them!

Shohaku Okumura writes about the four vows in his book Living by Vow A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts:

We are ordinary human beings and yet, if we take these four vows, we are bodhisattvas.  In reality, we are ordinary human beings with inexhaustible desires.  We have to study the teachings and practice endlessly, day by day, moment by moment, to attain the Buddha’s enlightenment.  This is our vow.  In making these four vows, we are bodhisattvas.

As we said, there is a contradiction inherent in these vows: we vow to do things that are impossible. . . .our practice and study are like trying to empty the ocean with a spoon, one spoonful at a time. (page 19).[1]

And yet we do it.  We take the vows, we practice as best we can and sometimes we compare our practice to others and get discouraged or get an overblown ego.  Neither is correct.  To be a bodhisattva is a journey with no end, but one that can bring great peace, compassion, and help to us, our families, friends, neighbors, community and ultimately the world.

Even if you are the winner of the National Spelling Bee there will be words to still discover, spell, and define, the number is limitless. And yet, the contestants still try and they keep on studying.  Such is living life by the 4 vows.  The journey is never ending, the path is never straight, the way is often up a rocky road and sometimes strolling on soft green grass. It can be filled with joys and sorrows, fun and laughter, pain and pleasure.  Regardless of the path we may travel, when we take the vows we do our best in this moment ONLY to live those vows.

I start each day by freeing myself from my delusions about myself and the world that I live in, then I open myself to the idea of reality being boundless and not limited by my past experiences and knowledge, and that walking the path of the bodhisattva is a path that could lead me to enlightenment and that is simply fun to imagine!—Even if I don’t attain it today.  I hope you’ll join me on this great adventure!

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day affirming the four vows.

2.  I will remind myself that living by them is done by being mindful and taking baby steps along the path throughout the day regardless of the current circumstances.

3.  I will remember that I am a bodhisattva even when I don’t feel like it or think I am acting like one.

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: Somerville, MA

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