Posted in buddhism, podcast

Baggage and Clarity

I gave a talk recently at Fountain City Meditation about the baggage we carry in our lives and about learning to see things more clearly.

You can listen to that talk here. I think it’s really good:

With Thoughts Clear, Sitting Silently | Scharpening the Mind

And I wanted to write something on the same subject.

“You must purify, cure, grind down, or brush away all the tendencies you have fabricated into apparent habits. Then you can reside in the clear circle of brightness.” -Honghzi

We’re trying to get better. That’s what this path is about. Trying to get better. Trying to be more mindful, to see things more clearly, to pay attention, to move through the world in a way that’s less harmful. That’s what all of this is about.

In the quote above Honghzi is talking about working with our bad habits, about improving ourselves and overcoming some of the things that are stopping us from realizing our potential. This is very important.

What are the things that are holding us back?

That old cliché is true. We are our own worst enemies. We are holding ourselves back more than anything else most of the time. We have habits and tendencies that aren’t helpful. We have baggage that we’re carrying around and we sometimes think that we are our baggage. But we’re not.

You’re not an angry person. You’re a person experiencing anger. You’re not a helpless person, you’re a person that is struggling to feel hopeful. You’re not broken, or at least no more broken than anyone else.

We’re working on improving ourselves and that seems really intimidating. Often we think we can’t do it. We’re trying to become more mindful and aware, but how can we when we feel so scattered and lost all the time?

So, with our practice, what we want to do is see if we can put down our baggage for a few minutes and just see what happens. When we train in this way, when we practice seeing the world without all our baggage and neuroses, then something special can happen for us. We can start seeing the world more clearly all the time.

Seeing things clearly is how we make good choices.

“With thoughts clear, sitting silently, wander into the circle of wonder. This is how you must penetrate and study.” -Hongzhi

That’s what we’re doing. The world is full of wonder. Another aspect of what we’re doing here is learning to pay attention. The world is an amazing place, but we’re missing it all the time because we’re so distracted. With our practice we can learn how to tune out those distractions and experience the world in a more authentic way.

 

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*quotes are taken from “Cultivating the Empty Field, The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi” by Taigen Dan Leighton, which you can get here:

Cultivating the Empty Field | amazon

 

links:

The Story of Honghzi | Patheos

Scharpening the Mind Podcast

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Posted in buddhism, videos

Forms of Sitting Practice | Video

Here’s a talk I recorded on meditation practice.

I focused on what we’re doing with our bodies when we sit down to meditate.

Let me know what you think.

 

 

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Posted in buddhism, podcast

Perceptions and Reality: Wonhyo’s Story

 

I gave a talk recently about the power of our minds, the way our perceptions can shape the way we see the world.

You can listen to it here: Perceptions and Reality

In that talk I told the story of a Korean monk from the 600s named Wonhyo. I wanted to write this to talk about Wonhyo a little.

Wonhyo was a really important figure in the history of Buddhism in Korea. He lived in the 600s. His importance in the spread of Buddhism into Korea can’t be overstated and all of the schools of Buddhism in the country view him as an important figure. He wrote hundreds of Buddhist texts. In addition to his own work he wrote many commentaries on classic Buddhist texts from the various schools.

I like all that, but I like him more because he was kind of a weirdo. I like the Buddhist teachers that seemed crazy. Wonhyo did what other Buddhist teachers didn’t do. A lot of his time that wasn’t spent writing was spent out in the streets. He went to public places and taught regular people about Buddhism. Not only did he do that, but he didn’t always wear robes, he actually gave up being a monk to get married. Not only that, but he also included singing, dancing, and other forms of entertainment in his dharma talks.

Anyway, I spent that time telling you who Wonhyo was so that I could tell you his origin story. I like his story and I think that maybe it tells us something about ourselves.

When Wonhyo was a young monk he wanted to journey to China. Like many historical teachers, Wonhyo became convinced that the “real” Buddhism hadn’t come to his country yet. So, he wanted to go to China to find a better and more authentic Buddhism. So, he and a friend decided to take a journey to China together.

They were just walking and it was a long journey by foot.

One night on their journey they got caught in some terrible weather. It was a torrential downpour and they didn’t know what to do. They couldn’t keep walking in it. They found a cave, which they thought was some kind of temple dug into a mountain. They went inside to stay for the night and try to sleep. It was very dark and hard to see in this little cavern.

They slept for a while and Wonhyo woke up in the middle of the night. He looked around a little and stumbled on something round. He assumed it was a gourd and he held it to his mouth.

I guess in those days catching water in a gourd and drinking it was a thing people did.

There was water inside and he thought it was the best water he had ever tasted, it was refreshing and delicious.

The next morning the two friends woke up and discovered that their cave was a tomb. There were skeletons everywhere. Wonhyo looked down at the gourd he had found the night before and discovered it was skull full of dirty water. He threw up immediately.

It’s said that Wonhyo attained Enlightenment in that moment.

Why?

Because he saw that he had an incredible ability to reshape reality with his perception. He thought it was a gourd, and so he tasted really good water. His expectation changed the tasted of the water.

After this experience Wonhyo decided to go back home. He gave up being a monk and started spreading the teachings as a layman.

I think his story tells us a lot about ourselves. We expect an interaction or experience to be a certain way, and then we make it true.

How many times have you thought you’d have a bad day and it turned out you were right?

Is that because you were right? Or because your perceptions made it true?

It’s hard to really know. The hope is that with our meditation practice our minds get better and better at distinguishing things like that. If you can approach your day and just be present in it without predicting if it will be good or bad, I think that’s best.

Our perceptions tend to shape our reality and that causes us to avoid facing the truth.

 

 

 

Posted in buddhism

Goodness

Basic Goodness


This is a term that was coined by Chogyam Trungpa in the 1980s. I really like this term. It was his reframing of the concept of Buddha Nature. He wanted to express it in a way that was easier for everyone to grasp. Buddha Nature might make us start picturing Buddha statues or spirits or something and that’s the wrong idea. If the terminology we’re using to talk about our own true nature that’s always present in us starts making us think of things outside of us.

The simple idea is that we’re good, that we have a kind of dignity and virtue that is fundamental to our being.

Our true nature is awake and free, all the things we want to be. Our struggles come, not from fundamental flaws in our being, but from attachments and delusions…ultimately things that are temporary. I like to think of the things we struggle with as clouds and our Basic Goodness as the sky. These things are going to come and go, although sometimes it sure seems like they stay for a long time.

 So, there are times in life when we know what the right thing to do is and we don’t do it. We all have that experience, sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small ways. What I want to encourage you to do is ask yourself, “Am I coming from my true self right now?” Once we realize that the way to be authentic is to make the right choices, then hopefully that can motivate us a little. Do you want to be real or fake?

That’s a tough question.

By the right thing, I mean doing whatever causes the least harm to ourselves and others. I’m going to talk about basic goodness in regards to ourselves because at times in regards to others it can be a little harder to see what the best choices are.

It’s with that in mind that I want to talk to you about a very simple thing. Flossing. We all know we’re supposed to floss, that it’s good for our personal care. It’s also easy and doesn’t take very long.  But most of us simply don’t do it. We just don’t. I have floss sitting on my bathroom counter and I don’t use it every day even though I know for certain that I should. When I do use it I’m doing the right thing for myself and my personal care. I’m coming from a place of Basic Goodness.

And I really want to compare flossing to meditation practice.

I was leading a meditation gathering and at the end someone asked me, “How often do you do it?” And I replied, “I wish I could say every day, but I can’t. I want to do it every day, but I don’t, it’s close to every other day.” And that was the truth. Meditation is something that I know is good for me. It improves my well being in all sorts of ways. But, for no reason, I don’t do it every day. I just don’t want to, like flossing. When I do go meditate, I’m coming from my true self. Making yourself meditate when you don’t really want to is coming from Basic Goodness. It’s doing the right thing for yourself

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Posted in buddhism

Retreats with Someone Else’s Hero

I’ve gone on a lot of weekend retreats over the years, with probably a dozen or so teachers.

These teachers come to visit the Rime Center in Kansas City. They come from a wide range of traditions and they have a wide range of teaching styles. This is a good thing because people can try to find what they’re looking for. (although I wish a Roshi or Shastri would come lead a retreat in Kansas City, but that’s a topic for another time.)

Weekend retreats are a good idea. That’s not what I’m writing about here. I’m writing about the teachers. And I hope everyone knows I’m not being critical…or if I am, the one I’m being critical of is myself.

You see, I went on numerous weekend retreats, I think I spent somewhere in the range of 50 days on retreat if you add it all up. It took me a long time to realize what was happening. Practicing with these teachers was almost always like meeting someone else’s personal hero. Is it any wonder I felt out of place?

(I said almost always because some of them were not quite that way. I’m talking about a majority of these experiences but not all of them.)

So many times I would hear about how great a teacher was and I would see people be really excited and…well they were fine. They weren’t bad, but just not what I’m looking for.

Although, as a really honest aside…I do sometimes have to wonder if other people are way better at understanding teachers with thick Tibetan accents than I am.

So, I stopped going on those weekend retreats. Rather, I stopped having the blanket view that I should go see ALL the visiting teachers. Because I don’t need to meet someone else’s personal hero. I’m glad your hero is here to lead a retreat for you. That is wonderful.

I think we need to ask ourselves why we’re doing the things we’re doing all the time. I think this is especially true in our spiritual practice. And if you find yourself sitting with a teacher who doesn’t mean anything to you, ask yourself a simple question.

Am I doing this because I want to or because I’m supposed to?

If I can’t travel to teachers that I want to retreat with and they also aren’t coming here, well I can always just retreat on my own. That’s what the Buddha did. That was the beginning of Seung Sahn’s practice too. Retreating alone is powerful.

Not that I think all of that time was wasted. I don’t. But the sitting meant more than the teachings almost every time.

And maybe I should have known better from my personal experience.

Back in 2012 and 2013 I was a Zen Monk in the Five Mountain Zen Order. I left because I didn’t connect with my teacher at all. He was not the teacher for me. I could have stayed and tried to stick it out until I received inka, transmission to become a teacher myself, but I didn’t. I considered that and it didn’t feel right.  I also could have asked the Order to assign me another teacher, but I didn’t even think of that possibility until much later. I’ll never know if that would have worked. I left instead (I don’t think they’d let me go back if I tried). Thankfully I found some really patient teachers online who would supplement my monk training with other  teachings to complete my training as a Zen teacher…

Of course our training is never really complete, is it?

Anyway, I had that experience where I knew a teacher wasn’t right for me and I backed out.

But for years I went on weekend retreats with someone else’s personal hero. Because I felt like I was supposed to go on these retreats. I’m not doing that anymore.

I’m only going on the retreats that my practice requires, instead of all the retreats that are available.

I think a lot of people are like me and have spent a lot of time practicing with teachers who aren’t very meaningful to them.

Don’t look for any teacher you can find. Look for the right one.

And for a while, maybe we can just be our own heroes.

 

 

Posted in buddhism, way of the bodhisattva

Shantideva on the first 5 Perfections

In “Way of the Bodhisattva” Shantideva starts going through the six perfections, our method for practicing the bodhisattva path. This section is only going to be about the first five. The sixth perfection, the Perfection of Wisdom, is something we will be saving for later.

The teaching of the Six Paramitas was created early in the history of Mahayana Buddhism.

Paramita is usually translated as “perfection” and that’s how I’m going to translate it. It doesn’t mean we do any of this perfectly (obviously) it just means that cultivating these virtues is very important.

5.9

If transcendent giving is

To dissipate the poverty of beings,

In what way, since the poor are always with us,

Have former buddhas practiced perfect generosity?

5.10

The true intention to bestow on every being

All possessions–and the fruits of such a gift:

By such, the teachings say, is generosity perfected.

And this, as we may seem, is but the mind itself.

This is about the perfection of generosity. The Perfection of Generosity is about more than simply giving things. It’s an expression of non-attachment to possessions, but it also represents other forms of giving, such as giving our time to others, helping them with difficult tasks, or just listening when someone needs to be heard.

5.11

Where could beings

Be placed to shield them from suffering?

Deciding to refrain from harming them

Is the perfection of virtue.

The Perfection of Virtue is not necessarily about living according to rules. We have plenty of rules in Buddhism. Living by rules is important, but more important, in this context, is the idea of living in harmony with others. We should strive to bring harmony to all of our relationships, whether personal or professional. If we set an example of virtue we can make the world a better place.

5.12

The hostile multitudes are vast as space–

What chance is there that all should be subdued?

Let but this angry mind be overthrown

And every foe is then destroyed.

This refers to the tool we use against aggression, the perfection of patience.

The Perfection of Patience represents not only patience with ourselves and others, but also tolerance and endurance. It represents our ability to “weather the storm”, to bear hardship without letting it get us down and, especially, to avoid lashing out at others because of our personal difficulties.

5.13

To cover all the earth with sheets of hide–

Where could such amounts of skin be found?

But simply wrap leather around your feet,

And it’s as if the whole earth has been covered!

This is a famous verse, often quoted from the Way of the Bodhisattva. Our problems can’t be solved by making the world a perfect place. They can only be solved by working on ourselves and figuring out how we can better respond to the world around us.

5.14

Likewise, we can never take

And turn aside the outer course of things.

But only seize and discipline the mind itself,

And what is there remaining to be curbed.

Controlling our minds, controlling ourselves, is all we can really do. Shantideva implores us to discipline our minds.

5.15

A clear intent can fructify

And bring us  birth in a better realm.
The acts of body and of speech are less-

They do not generate a like result.

This is a little bit less clear, but the clear intent Shantideva refers to is the perfection of diligence.

The Perfection of Diligence is about tirelessly overcoming obstacles, walking the path even when it’s difficult and it would be simple to give up. Without diligence we might not have the determination necessary to continue to walk the path when things get difficult.

5.16

Recitations and austerities,

Though they may be long,

If practiced with distracted mind,

Are futile.

We can practice and practice, but we really need to be better at avoided distraction. The perfection of concentration is about taming our minds, so we can weather the storms of life with a clear and direct focus.

The Perfection of Concentration represents those practices that are dedicated to helping us improve our ability to focus and concentrate. These include several meditation and mindfulness practices. We are cultivating our mental stability and our ability to contemplate things clearly without getting held back by distractions or preconceptions. We are training our minds so we can have focus, composure, and tranquility.

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Posted in buddhism

Analyzing Suffering

There is freedom in seeing our suffering as it really is. We can analyze our experience, seeing how we feel, who we are, and gaining some understanding into our habitual feelings and tendencies. In an analysis of ourselves we can come to understand that the core of our being is basically good and that we have innate wakefulness, or Buddha nature.

There are layers of delusion that keep us from understanding our true nature. These are things like the small self and it’s habitual patterns and the baggage we carry. If we really look into this with insight, we can see that way we see our selves doesn’t really match reality that well.

One of the ways we can do this kind of analysis is by studying the four noble truths: the truth of suffering, the causes of suffering, the end of suffering, and the path of the dharma. The first two truths represent an explanation of the situation we are in. The second two represent how we hope to transcend it.

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Posted in buddhism

Just Try It And See

We don’t engage Buddhist practice because it’s what the Buddha said we should do.

I think people lose sight of that sometimes. There can be a tendency at times to see Buddhist texts as magical truths because they’re Buddhist texts. Instead, we should judge all the teachings and practices based on their own merit. The Buddha said we should judge the teachings for ourselves. But I don’t care that the Buddha said it.

It’s obvious that we should do that.

To follow Buddhism is to do the practices and see what the results are. All that matters is being more aware and compassionate. To see the world and our place in it with more clarity.

 

Posted in buddhism

The Fourth Noble Truths: 8 FOLDS

So, what do we do?

The Buddha gave us an outline called “the eightfold path”. This path gives us a practice to overcome suffering. There are these eight things that are conducive to our awakening, to helping us overcome our suffering by seeing reality as it really is. I’m going to go over those eight now.

  1. Right View: This is cultivating an expansive view that isn’t so caught up in our narrow preconceptions, emotional baggage, and I-Me-Mine thinking all the time. This is a view that sees that things are always changing and that nothing is independent of anything else. We are parts of a whole.
  2. Right Intention: This means we are in this for the right reasons. We’re doing this to lessen our suffering. Therefore we take it seriously.
  3. Right Speech: We want to be honest and forthright. Avoid lying. Lies distract us. Also avoid harsh speech and gossip. Use your words to be kind. We can do so much harm with our words.
  4. Right Action: Do good deeds, but also act from a state that’s not so connected to outcomes. Don’t help someone in the hope that they will later help you. Help them just to help them.
  5. Right Livelihood: Earn a living in a way that promotes honesty and harmony.
  6. Right Effort: Cultivate a determination to be engaged in each moment and to abandon delusion. Be diligent.
  7. Right Mindfulness: Keep in mind the real problem, suffering, and also be here now. Observe the mind and become aware of how it works.
  8. Right Meditation: Training the mind to be focused and aware, not just on the meditation cushion, but all the time.

That’s it. The four noble truths is really the first teaching that the Buddha gave and many would argue that it’s the most important.

 


 

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Posted in buddhism

The Third Noble Truth: All Things Must Pass

When I think of the Third Noble Truth, I think of that wonderful George Harrison song, “All Things Must Pass”.

That’s really the message of this truth. All things come and go. And this includes our suffering. Our suffering is impermanent. And if we have a rational understanding of our suffering, then we know this. It’s like that trite self help line “This too shall pass”.

Everything we perceive is always coming and going. Enlightenment is really just seeing this nature of things intuitively, seeing our situation as it is. We think of ourselves as individual beings who came into existence and will some day die. The Buddha described human beings as a stream. We came into being, but so many aspects of ourselves are just a continuation of other things. The whole universe is this way. When did you really begin? With your birth? With your conception? With your parents birth?

So, what do we do?

We manage our craving by not feeding it, letting go of our neurotic patterns so we don’t make all our problems worse and make enemies out of everything all the time. Waking up to our true nature of interdependence yields freedom.

 


 

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