There are three essentials of Zen practice. These are considered some of the greatest and most important virtues. They are great faith, great doubt, and great determination. Great faith means having faith in our mind’s ability… More
There is an old story called the Kalama Sutra. It is one of the oldest sutras and one of my favorites.
It goes something like this: The Buddha was traveling the world spreading the Dharma, teaching people that wanted to listen. He came upon a group of people known as the Kalamas and started explaining the Dharma to them. Their response was unusual.
They said, “We have had numerous spiritual teachers come here. Every new teacher comes and tells us to ignore the teachings we have heard before and to follow their doctrine only. This has made us doubtful and uncertain. What makes your teaching different? Why should we follow your authority and not the authority of the other teachers that came before you?”
The Buddha’s reply was unique.
You didn’t need a religious teacher to come tell you that greed, hatred and delusion are bad. Your common sense agrees with that. You didn’t need a religious teacher to come and tell you that compassion and mindfulness are good. Your common sense agrees with that too.
I have only really come to teach skillful means, methods to deal with the suffering that pervades our lives. If my teachings are right, then the truth is within you already. Other teachings may be dogmatic and strict. Mine is not. I only teach suggestions for dealing with suffering.”
This is an important message in my opinion. I have a natural inclination to both be skeptical and to challenge authority. Unlike many other religious teachers, that is actually what the Buddha suggests to us. He had studied with several religious teachers in his time and he had decided that religion was not for him. He didn’t see the religions that he encountered as viable paths to spiritual truth or happiness. So, he created his own path.
In my opinion, he wasn’t trying to start a religion at all, he was just providing an example for us to follow, more of a way of life than a religion. His teachings weren’t given the label ‘religion’ until hundreds of years later.
On the Bodhisattva path we are striving to save all beings. We are trying to put all other thoughts aside and just work for the benefit of all.
But sometimes we forget to include ourselves.
We’re taught to not judge others, to avoid looking down on them, to recognize their experiences are different from ours.
To each their own. Harmony in a world of difference. These are good things. Judgments tear people apart in ways that few other things can. Avoiding judgment is good. Judgment represents aversion, one of the three poisons that the Buddha warned us about. If we can avoid judging other people that is wonderful.
But I think sometimes we forget to avoid judging ourselves.
I’m bad at managing money. I’m not very good looking. I’m broken. I’m not smart enough. I’m too selfish. I make only bad choices. I don’t have good abs. I’m not lovable. This or that person is better than me.
I’m not good enough.
These are my examples of self judgment. Most of us have these kinds of things sometimes. Maybe all of us do. Some of us have these kinds of thoughts a lot.
We don’t think of these kinds of thoughts as aggression, but they are. It’s not peaceful to think of ourselves in these ways.
So I’m here to tell you:
You are good enough.
Please don’t forget.
Student: “Master I am very discouraged. What should I do?”
Master: “Encourage others.”
How do we transform our lives to bring us closer to equanimity and contentment?
Sometimes it’s hard to be joyful. We can’t be happy all the time. Life is full of suffering. But, real joy comes from a sense of contentment, from accepting our lives as they are in each moment.
When bad things happen, we sometimes stick to them like glue. One bad thing can happen during our day and we can hold onto it all day, even for several days. It can continue to affect us for a long time after the situation is over.
How do we commit to a joy practice?
We should set a daily intention and remind ourselves to be open to it.
We can start with a daily affirmation: “May I be filled with joy today.”
And then we can extend it to: “May all beings be filled with joy today.”
We talk a lot about compassion in Buddhist practice, but we may sometimes forget that in a Buddhist context compassion applies to how we view ourselves and our suffering too.
It’s not about creating feelings that aren’t there. It’s about appreciating the little things in our lives that are good and becoming content. It’s about accepting things as they are instead of attaching too strongly to our wish for them to be different. It is so easy in life to focus on the negative.
Sympathetic joy also helps.
It’s a feeling of joy we can experience when something good happens to another person. We have to set our intentions to do this as well. We can tend to be full of jealousy sometimes and this doesn’t serve us. If we can be joyful about good things happening to others, that increases our joy a great deal.
We can also cultivate gratitude. Spend some time thinking about what you’re grateful for each day. So much of our sadness is simply from not appreciating what we have already.
“Do not give rise to good and bad thoughts. When a thought arises-–-be aware of it-–-awareness dissolves the thought. When this method is applied over a long period of time—all thoughts are forgotten and oneness is attained.”
Zuo Ch’an Yi, The Seated Meditation Regulation text, may have been one of the first lists of instructions regarding seated meditation. This is thought to be one of the texts that Zen Master Dogen referred to when he was creating his own set of meditation rules.
Zen Master Baizang gave the following instructions in this text regarding how to meditate. I think this list is still relevant today:
1) Regulate food, water, and sleep.
2) A quiet room and loose clothing.
3) A thick cushion.
4) Adopt an awe-inspiring deportment that makes everything ‘equal’.
5) Assume the full-lotus – right-foot over left thigh, left-foot over right-thigh.
6) Assume the half-lotus – with the left-leg laid over the right-leg.
7) Left-hand should be placed on the right-hand with thumbs touching.
8) Adjust the posture forward and backward and settle whilst regulating the breath.
9) Align the spine with the shoulder and pelvic girdles. of r10) An aligned posture allows the breath to be full and deep.
11) The ears should be aligned with the shoulders; the nose with the navel. The tongue should touch the palate and the lips and teeth should be closed.
12) Eyes should remain slightly open to avoid drowsiness.
It’s important to have some kind of structure. If our meditation is too open ended, too relaxed, then we might not meditate at all. So, instructions like these are important. And, even though this is a very old list of instructions, it still has plenty of relevance for those of us that are meditating today.
Bai Zhang said that meditation is the single most important teaching in Buddhist practice. I tend to agree with that. Meditation benefits the self and all other beings as well.
Once, Ikkyu was staying in a temple. The night was cold and there were three wooden Buddhas in the temple, so he burned one Buddha to warm himself.
The priest in charge of the temple woke up and noticed something was going on, so he looked to see what Ikkyu was doing.
The Buddha statue was burning and Ikkyu was sitting there warming his hands over the fire.
The priest got angry. He said, “What are you doing? Are you a madman?—and I thought you to be a Buddhist monk, that’s why I allowed you to stay in the temple. This is profane.”
Ikkyu said, “But the Buddha within me was feeling very cold. So it was a question whether to sacrifice the living Buddha to the wooden one, or to sacrifice the wooden one to the living one. And I decided for life.”
The priest was so angry that he couldn’t listen. He said, “You are a madman. You simply get out of here! You have burned Buddha.”
So Ikkyu started to poke the burned Buddha with a stick. There were ashes; the Buddha was almost consumed by the fire.
The priest asked, “What are you doing?”
Ikkyu said, “I am trying to find the bones of Buddha.”
So the priest laughed and said, “You are either a fool or a madman. And you are absolutely mad! You cannot find bones there, because it is just a wooden Buddha.”
Ikkyu laughed. He said, “Then bring the other two. The night is still very cold. I haven’t burned the Buddha. I’ve burned a wooden statue. And you called me the crazy one.”
What can we take from this? Is it just a funny story? Maybe.
I think it represents iconoclasm.
The priest is, in a sense, worshiping this Buddha statue. We shouldn’t worship it. We shouldn’t worship anything, really, but we especially shouldn’t be attached to an icon.
When we give a statue of the Buddha that much respect, we are doing what the Buddha said not to do. He said that the Dharma is what really matters, not him.
Historically it seems that the Buddha rejected the Guru/disciple teaching method. He often said, “You should think for yourselves.” And I think that is important to remember.
After his death, many branches of Buddhism did adopt the Guru/disciple method. They would probably do well to read stories like this one.
By Daniel Scharpenburg I was on a pilgrimage. I was not traveling with family or friends, I was taking this journey alone. I live on the eastern edge of Kansas, so I would have to cross the entire state—the empty and desolate plains of western Kansas—to enter Colorado. My destination was the Great Stupa…
Zen is said to be a method for overcoming the five hindrances: Sensation desire, hatred, sloth, anxiety, and doubt. These are described as the mental factors that hinder our progress, not only in the spiritual path but in daily life as well.
Sensation desire refers to the type of wanting that tries to get our desires fulfilled through the five senses. Hatred refers to all kinds of feeling related to rejection and hostility. Sloth refers to heaviness of body and mind that can tend to drag us down into laziness. Anxiety refers to restlessness in the body and mind that can cause us to be distracted and unable to focus. Doubt refers to a lack of conviction or trust in the path and our ability to pursue it.
When we practice, we are cultivating five positive qualities that can counteract the five hindrances. These are: Directed Thought, Evaluation, Rapture, Pleasure, and Oneness of Preoccupation.
Directed Thought is used to counteract Sloth. Evaluation is used to counteract Doubt. Rapture is used to counteract Hatred, Pleasure is used to counteract Anxiety, Oneness is used to counteract Sensation desire.
This is the essence of the Zen method. Through the insight granted from meditation, the poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion are overcome and the reality of the all-embracing Empty Mind Ground is realized and planted in the mind of the practitioner. This is how we unleash our Buddha nature. All of the different skilful means, such as hua tou and kung an practice, have the goal of realizing emptiness and perceiving the Empty Mind Ground. This is what the Buddha meant when he talked about Enlightenment. It is awakening to our true nature. To perceive the Empty Mind Ground is to become one with it intuitively.
Although Zen was a concept so foreign to the first students of Bodhidharma in China, the influence did go both ways.
Zen was heavily influenced by Taoist schools of thought that were common in China at the time. The line from the Diamond Sutra that is said to have caused the Enlightenment of the sixth Patriarch Huineng, “Let your mind function freely without abiding anywhere or in anything.” sounds very similar to the Taoist notion of “flowing like a river.”
It’s also a big similarity that Zen and Taoism both suggest to use that the truth remains ‘outside the scriptures’. Not something we can get from others, but something we have to perceive ourselves. It’s for this reason that studying with a teacher who actually knows you is thought of as a more successful path than studying sutras. Sutras can only take you so far. But then, your teacher can only take you so far too, ultimately the message is that we must walk the path ourselves.
It could be this Taoist influence that separates Zen from other branches of Buddhism, making it unique. It has been argued by some Zen teachers that Zen represents a combination between the original Vipassana meditation as taught by the Buddha and Taoism. I think that is a pretty accurate description.
Our methods include several forms of meditation, some study of words of the ancient masters, and interacting with a teacher.