On the Road to Shambhala | Tattooed Buddha

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…

via On the Road to Shambhala. — The Tattooed Buddha

Zen And The Hindrances

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.

 

Lotus

The Lotus flower is a beautiful plant. It lives in the water. It often comes out of water that’s muddy and unclean. But with great beauty, it blooms.

This is a common symbol in Buddhism. You can see it all over the place in Buddhist art. It’s really common for images of Bodhisattvas to be seen sitting on giant lotus flowers, and maybe holding small ones too.

One of the most well known mantras “OM MANI PADME HUM” means “the jewel in the lotus.” Chanting this mantra is declaring our own intent to attain Enlightenment.

Different colored lotus flowers are said to have different meanings in Buddhist symbolism. The blue lotus represents Prajnaparamita, the perfection of wisdom. The gold lotus represents the spiritual Enlightenment of all awakened beings. The pink lotus represents the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. The red lotus represents Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion and it’s said to represent our pure true nature. The white lotus represent purity, a state in which we aren’t afflicted by the three poisons: greed, hatred, and delusion. The purple lotus represents the mystical path.

There’s an additional layer of meaning. A lotus that is fully open represents full and complete Enlightenment. A lotus that’s closed represents the earliest stages on the path.

The lotus is significant because it’s beautiful and pure. But it came out of muddy water. Out of impurity comes purity.

We are the same. We come out of our messy human lives. We exist in a great deal of suffering, like the muddy water. Many of us have had horrendous circumstances in our lives. People we care about die. We struggle in daily life. And most of us have made decisions that are absolutely awful. (I know I have). We are mired in delusion and this is like the muddy water.

But, like the lotus, we can rise above it.

When we rise above the suffering of our lives, when we let go of the attachments that don’t serve us well, when we overcome the preconceptions that are harmful to our well being, we are rising out of the water. When we purify our minds, we are rising from the muddy water, beautiful and pure. And as we travel on the spiritual journey, our lotus blooms.

This is our spiritual journey. To come out of this delusion and bloom as pure and Enlightened beings is the essence of the Bodhisattva’s journey. We exist in the muddy water of suffering, but we are rising above the suffering in transforming ourselves. The lotus reminds us that even in the worst, most stained and deluded circumstances we can rise above things. We can transform ourselves.

But the truth is the lotus was pure the whole time, even before it bloomed, even before it rose above the water. It’s nature didn’t change. It’s purity simply emerged. We are the same way. Our Buddha nature is our true nature. Our Enlightenment is right here right now. We just have to emerge and bloom.

 

Lotus

Zen Master Huang Po

Huang Po was a Zen Master in China in the 800s.

He taught that mind cannot be sought by the mind. One of his most important sayings was “mind is the Buddha.” He said:

“All the Buddhas and all sentient beings are nothing but the One Mind, beside which nothing exists. The One Mind alone is the Buddha, and there is no distinction between the Buddha and other beings.”

He also said:

“To awaken suddenly to the fact that your own Mind is the Buddha, that there is nothing to be attained or a single action to be performed—this is the Supreme Way.“

He also firmly rejected all dualism, especially between the “ordinary” and “enlightened” states:

”If you would only rid yourselves of the concepts of ordinary and Enlightened, you would find that there is no other Buddha than the Buddha in your own Mind. The arising and the elimination of illusion are both illusory. Illusion is not something rooted in Reality; it exists because of your dualistic thinking. If you will only cease to indulge in opposed concepts such as ‘ordinary’ and ‘Enlightened,’ illusion will cease of itself.“

Since all is Buddha-mind, all actions reflect the Buddha, are actions of a Buddha. Huang Po’s teaching on this reflected the Indian concept of the tathatagarbha, the idea that within all beings is the nature of the Buddha. Therefore, Huang Po taught that seeking the Buddha was futile as the Buddha is within us already:

“If you know positively that all sentient beings already one with Bodhi (enlightenment), you will cease thinking of Bodhi as something to be attained”

Huang Po was adamant that any form of “seeking” was not only useless, but obstructed clarity:

“Sentient beings are attached to forms and so seek externally for Buddhahood. By their very seeking they lose it”.

Furthermore, he claimed that

‘Studying the Way’ is just a figure of speech […] In fact, the Way is not something which can be studied. You must not allow this name to lead you into forming a mental concept of a road.“

What Huang Po knew was that students of Zen often became attached to “seeking” enlightenment and he constantly warned against this (and all attachment) as an obstruction to enlightenment

“If you students of the Way wish to become Buddhas, you need study no doctrines whatever, but learn only how to avoid seeking for and attaching yourselves to anything.“

Huang Po often railed against traditional Buddhist textual practices, pointing to the necessity of direct experience over sutra study. If the truth is within us already, why would we need to study sutras?

 

Shootings

The tragedy in Orlando was still fresh in our minds.

And then Alton Sterling was shot by two police officers in Louisiana.

And then later I walked by the news on a TV at work and there was a story about a black man being shot by police. I thought it was another story about Alton Sterling, but it wasn’t.

My friend asked me, “What happened with this shooting?”

And I said, “I don’t know…I can’t keep track of all the shootings anymore..”

Philando Castle was killed by police in Minnesota when he was pulled over for a broken tail light. Because he was reaching for his wallet, after telling the officer that he had a concealed carry license and that he did have a concealed weapon in the car. He told the officer he was reaching for his wallet and the officer shot him. In the car. By the way, there was a child in the backseat. That shouldn’t matter, of course. But it does. An innocent man was shot and that’s what is really important. But thinking about that child makes me really sad too.

Police make me nervous anyway. If I was black my anxiety would probably make me stay home all the time.

I am so sad.

And our society is so fucking divided that people say things like, “If they treated the officers with more respect they wouldn’t have been shot.”

That is victim blaming. It’s no different from telling a rape victim she shouldn’t have worn a short skirt. Victim blaming makes me really uncomfortable. People are dead.

People say things like, “This person had a criminal record, they weren’t really innocent.” That’s crazy too. Who cares if they had a criminal record? Does that mean that they should be shot in the street?

When people make excuses for brutality like this I just wonder if they love and trust the government a lot more than I do. I don’t understand.

I get it, being a police officer is hard. Really really hard. But I believe we can expect more from them. Maybe police need more training. Maybe they need better pay so that precincts can be a little more discerning in who they allow to work these jobs. I don’t know. But I do know that we shouldn’t just accept this as normal and blame the victims whenever possible.

And I’m not sure if these officers had hate in their hearts when they committed these acts (but let’s investigate and find out). But I am sure they shouldn’t be police anymore. Because at best these actions were negligent. If your job is to protect people and you accidentally kill someone, that’s it.

And then some police officers were shot at a protest. (as of this writing I couldn’t find their names or I would post them here. I am mourning them too) As though violence can solve anything, as though this will do anything other than make people angry and ruin the lives of those officer’s families.

I don’t believe our society is so divided that we can only feel sympathy for either the officers that were slain or the two men. All of them are victims of a cycle of violence and division that I hope we can stop.

I think our culture teaches us that violence is the way to solve problems and I don’t agree with that.

Violence makes problems. And we should all cultivate peace and love in our hearts instead of violence and hate.

Not that people shouldn’t defend themselves when they’re under attack. People think that because I’m a pacifist that’s what I think, but if you’re against the wall, you do whatever you have to do. None of these killings were in self-defense.

What can we do?

As Buddhists, some of us take vows to try to save everyone. What can we even do in situations like this?

Today I just don’t know.

Love each other. Build bridges instead of walls. Be kind. Be connected. Stop trying to divide and separate. We do far too much of that.

The media and politicians have a role in this division, but that’s because that’s what people expect from them. So let’s expect something different.

Just be nice.

You can spread kindness and positivity in your life.

It starts with you.