Posted in tattooed buddha, Uncategorized

Kensho: A Glimpse of Awakening

Kensho is something we talk about in the Zen tradition.

It represents the mystical experience, the experience of oneness, of seeing our true nature, emptiness, the absolute, whatever you want to call it.

Some lineages talk about it a lot and some talk about it a little. It’s important to not attach to these experiences. There are stories about people who thought they had attained Enlightenment and then made some bad decisions.

That’s why having a teacher is important, so the teacher can tell you, “Hey, slow down. Take it easy.” This is helpful if we’re attaching too much to these experiences. Or, at the very least, it is useful to find a supportive community. Finding a teacher isn’t always easy and for some of us it takes a very long time.

It’s been said that Kensho can be a big or small experience. In either case, it is an opening, a glimpse into Awakening. This is a temporary experience.

Dogen called it, “The dropping away of body and mind.”

Xu Yun said, “The mind came to a stop.”

Having had a Kensho experience doesn’t mean that one is fully Enlightened. It’s just a glimpse of the truth. Kensho has been compared to a psychedelic experience.

I didn’t really start having these experiences with any regularity until I started meditating every day. Some people say they never have them, even with really diligent practice.

The point is that we shouldn’t be attached to these experiences.

They are wondrous and can really help motivate us on the path, but if we think of them as special, we could have problems.

D.T. Suzuki also wrote in An Introduction to Zen Buddhism:

“When the mind has been so trained as to be able to realize a state of perfect void in which there is not a trace of consciousness left, even the sense of being unconscious having departed; in other words, when all forms of mental activity are swept away clean from the field of consciousness, leaving the mind like the sky devoid of every speck of cloud, a mere broad expense of blue, Dhyana is said to have reached its perfection.”

Some people think of Kensho as the end of the path, but that’s a mistake.

Really, it’s the beginning. It does change you in a very real way. I’ve been fundamentally changed by every such experience I’ve had. I wouldn’t say I’ve had Satori, or a full Enlightenment experience, but it’s because of Kensho that I believe Satori is attainable. Once you’ve had a Kensho experience you can’t lie to yourself like you did before when you’ve had  a glimpse at the true nature of things.

In the Platform Sutra Huineng said:

“If, for one thought-moment, there is abiding, then there will be abiding in all successive thoughts, and this is called clinging. If, in regard to all matters there is no abiding from thought-moment to thought-moment, then there is no clinging. Non-abiding is the basis.”

Kensho is a state of letting go, releasing who you think you are and dwelling in your true self.

After this break in thoughts is over, one tends to still not cling to thoughts for a while.

When we engage both concentration and insight practices, these experiences can arise naturally. They’re especially common when we are on retreat.

Every time we enter this space of Awakening it’s a deep and profound experience.

Every time, we dwell in Enlightenment, we bring a little more of it back with us

 

 

http://thetattooedbuddha.com/kensho-a-glimpse-into-awakening/

Posted in tattooed buddha, Uncategorized

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

 

“You can no longer deceive yourselves as sincerely as you did before. You have now got the taste of truth.” -Ouspensky

There’s something about the spiritual journey that we don’t talk about much.

When we really engage spiritual practice and we go deeply within ourselves, a lot of things change. The spiritual journey takes us all sorts of places and that’s why it can become uncomfortable at times. We lie to ourselves all of the time and really, looking within is hard sometimes because it forces us to take a good hard look at all the things we believe.

And, of course, we can continue lying to ourselves. We often do. But as stated in the quote above, once we have a certain level of awareness we know we’re lying. We spend a lot more time fooling ourselves than we spend fooling others.

What kind of lies am I talking about? I’ll tell you some lies I used to tell myself.

I’m not overweight but I’ve always had a beer belly. I used to say it was genetic, that I couldn’t really do anything about it. But that wasn’t true. I took control of my health. I started eating better and working out and it started going away. It’s largely because I drank too much soda and ate too many carbs (and, of course, too much beer).

I used to tell myself: I can’t handle that. Some projects or interactions seemed like too much for an anxious introvert like me. But the truth is I can handle anything with just a little effort. I do all sorts of things that I thought I would never be able to do.

And pretending to be confident goes a long way.

I used to tell myself that I loved my job. The truth is that I’m comfortable. I don’t stay at my workplace because I enjoy it. I stay there because it’s comfortable and leaving seems scary. Although I make more money than a lot of people I know, I am well aware that I could make a lot more money in a different industry. But money isn’t everything. I like being comfortable.

I used to tell myself that I couldn’t leave. We tell ourselves that we can’t leave relationships or jobs or situations. But the truth is that you can always leave. Many of us can say: “I should have left but I thought I wasn’t strong enough.” I can say that.

The Eagles said, “Oftentimes it happens, that we live our lives in chains. And we never even know we have the key.”

And it’s a side effect of the spiritual journey. Once you’re in touch with your true self, it just gets harder and harder to fool yourself. It gets harder to make excuses for yourself too.

That said, it doesn’t necessarily make things any easier. We just come to a point where we have to admit to ourselves that the reason we’re doing something (or not) is because that’s a choice we’re making. We come to a point where we aren’t interested in making excuses to fool ourselves anymore.

Because the spiritual journey makes us more honest. And I don’t mean with others, although I think that’s true too. The spiritual journey makes us more honest with ourselves. Because when we are looking for TRUTH, we find all sorts of little truths along the way.

What lies do you tell yourself?

http://thetattooedbuddha.com/the-lies-we-tell-ourselves/

 

Posted in Striding Through the Universe, tattooed buddha

Han Shan and the Zen Hermits

Fenggan (left) Hanshan (center) Shide (right)

Camping makes me think of Zen hermits.

I sometimes go and live in a tent for a while. If people are around, they come talk to me. If no one is around, then I spend time with the trees and the grass.

There’s a tradition, especially in China, of Buddhist teachers disappearing into the wilderness. These figures would disappear from society and go live in a cave or a tent or a hut and that’s where they would stay. They would give teachings to potential students who came to visit them. Or, if no one came to visit they would just give teachings to the trees and grass, to the animals and the moon.

Famously, Bodhidharma went and lived in a cave for nine years.

The Sixth Patriarch Huineng—just after he received Dharma Transmission—went to live alone in the woods for a while before he began teaching too.

This tradition also exists outside of the Zen lineage. There are Theravada teachers in places like Thailand who went to live in the forest instead of staying in Buddhist temples. There was a big tradition in Tibetan monks leaving to become forest and mountain yogis for part of their lives.

I could write about many different Buddhist teachers, but I’m going to center on one. His name was Han Shan, which means ‘Cold Mountain.’ That’s not his birth name. In that period it was normal for some Buddhist monks to take the name of the place where they lived, and he lived on a place called Cold Mountain in China, the 700s. We don’t know much about him, but what we do know is an interesting story.

(Note: There is another monk named Han Shan who lived centuries later. These two figures are both interesting and can sometimes get confused. I may write about the other one at a later time.)

Han Shan was a government bureaucrat during the Tang dynasty in China. In that period being a bureaucrat was considered one of the highest professions that one could aspire to. There was a rebellion and he decided to leave. I wonder if the pressure of his job during a tumultuous time was too much—who knows? He went, taking nothing with him, and traveled to the cold mountains, where he decided to live.

He became a hermit and a poet. He would write poetry on rocks and on cave walls—mainly things about nature, such as:

“The path to Han-shan’s place is laughable,

A path, but no sign of cart or horse.

Converging gorges – hard to trace their twists

Jumbled cliffs – unbelievably rugged.

A thousand grasses bend with dew,

A hill of pines hums in the wind.

And now I’ve lost the shortcut home,

Body asking shadow, how do you keep up?”

And this:

“There is a Precious Mountain
Even the Seven Treasures cannot compare
A cold moon rises through the pines
Layer upon layer of bright clouds
How many towering peaks?
How many wandering miles?
The valley streams run clear
Happiness forever! “

His poetry has been studied in much the same way that Zen Koans are studied. He was considered a crazy person by the locals, a wild eccentric, and sometimes spent times living in huts and caves around the mountain. And sometimes he just slept outside.

He was considered an oddball by most, not someone that anyone could really learn teachings from. Eventually he got a student anyway, a man named Shih-Te who went and lived with him. And they traveled around together, just living in the woods, teaching the Dharma to the sun and the moon.

Not much is known about Han Shan because that is his whole story. Over 100 poems were found in various places around Cold Mountain, written in cave walls, carved into trees and written on rocks. People collected them and copied them and they’ve been studied for many years.

His poetry served as the main inspiration for the American poets Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac.

No one really knows what became of Han Shan and his student Shih-Te, but it’s said that they became mythic figures even during their lives. There were those that said that Han Shan was an incarnation of Manjushri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom and his student Shih-Te was an incarnation of Samantabhadra, the Bodhisattva of Practice.

The tradition of Zen hermits is not the same as it once was. People are less inclined to leave the world behind for a while and be alone in the woods or on mountains. But there are still those that do it.

There’s also a tradition of Zen poetry that was probably in no small part inspired by Han Shan. I wish I were a poet, but I’m not. Zen essays have to be enough for me.

I wonder if I could write this on a cave wall.

 

Posted in tattooed buddha

Fire Gazing

Camp Fire

Have you ever gone camping?

Or gone to a cookout where there was a bonfire? If you have, you may already be a meditator.

Having a fire is a way to cheat when you have a gathering of people. What do I mean? If there’s a fire people will just stare at it. This counts as entertaining them, so it takes all the pressure off the host. People that don’t camp say things like, “What do you do when you’re out there?”

And the truth is that camping is an activity in itself. Hearing birds sing and crickets chirp, feeling the wind blow, smelling fire, and staring at it. It’s not for no reason that we can look at a fire and be entertained (and it’s not some latent pyromania that lies within us either).

It’s true that sometimes we sit around the fire talking. But, just as often we sit in silence. Some people sit and stare at a stick of burning incense when they meditate. That’s essentially the same thing as staring at a campfire, isn’t it?

Staring at a fire puts us in a meditative state.

It lights up the same parts of the brain as the various forms of meditation. It’s been speculated that when early humans stared at fire, it increased their cognitive function and stimulated brain development. Fire made us who we are, and it isn’t just because it gave us the ability to cook food.

There’s a Greek myth that I think everyone knows.

Prometheus stole fire from the Gods and gave it to humans. It’s only because Prometheus delivered fire that humans were able to grow and become powerful. Fire stimulated human development. It’s no different, really, from stories about eating from the tree of knowledge or from those monoliths in 2001: a Space Odyssey. Prometheus gave fire to early humans and that’s when they became modern humans.

So, staring at a campfire can tend to have the same positive effects as meditation practice—better long term memory, better attention to detail and increased patience.

These things were very important for early humans. It could be argued that we wouldn’t be around without those benefits. We could have been wiped out by tigers or any of a number of other dangerous predators. Instead, we figured out how to carry on.

What’s the point of all this? I just wanted to tell you.

You may already be a meditator. Just letting you know.

 

http://thetattooedbuddha.com/fire-gazing-you-may-already-be-a-meditator/

Posted in tattooed buddha, Uncategorized

First There is a Mountain…

river and mountains

A famous, historical Zen teacher named Qingyuan Weixin had a saying…

At the first level on the path he saw mountains as mountains and rivers as rivers.

On the second level of the path he saw that mountains are not mountains and rivers are not rivers.

And at a third level he saw once again mountains were mountains and rivers were rivers.

The singer Donovan Leitch was inspired by this story when he wrote the song “There is a Mountain,” with the seemingly nonsensical lyric, “First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.”

It seems like such a profound thing to say.

I think the first stage, when mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers, is the beginning of our practice; when we’ve started the journey to self-transformation. There are teachers to learn from and things to be learned—there is a mountain to climb.

Second, when mountains are not mountains and rivers are not rivers, is when we start to see things as they really are; when we start to see our true nature.

We see everything is made up of other things, nothing exists on its own. Those mountains are made up of rocks and trees and grass and so many other things. Everything is connected to everything else. When we become conscious that this applies to ourselves too, it is very important. We live in the delusion: we are separate from the world around us. This delusion causes us to suffer and has stopped us from understanding.

When we come to realize the oneness of things, we comprehend that we are Enlightened, and we have been the whole time.

It’s at the third stage, when mountains are once again mountains and rivers are once again rivers, that we really understand; we reconcile the paradox. This is where we learn to dwell in both the transcendent reality and the immanent one.

First stage our feet are firmly planted on the ground. Second stage we have our heads in the clouds. Third stage we learn how to do both.

This represents understanding, as the Heart Sutra says, “Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form.” When we have key insights into the nature of reality, we dwell in the world of Emptiness and the world of Form. We come to realize the truth, we’ve been doing that the whole time.

 

http://thetattooedbuddha.com/first-there-is-a-mountain-realizing-the-oneness-of-things/

Posted in tattooed buddha

The Purpose of Buddhist Strings

author's own photo

I have three strings around my wrist.

There are two red ones and a yellow one. One of the red ones is looking a little worn. I’ve had it for a while. It’s something people notice sometimes.

Everyone knows I prefer the Zen tradition and strings aren’t part of that, but I have spent a great deal of time practicing in the Vajrayana tradition and it has meant a lot to me too. Each one has a different meaning.

The first red one was given to me by Lama Chuck Stanford when he gave me Refuge Vows and I officially became Buddhist. The second red one was given to me by Lama Chuck when I took Bodhisattva Vows, deepening my Buddhist commitment.

The yellow one was give to me by Lama Lena Feral, and it was blessed by her teacher Wangdor Rinpoche—a famous Vajrayana Buddhist teacher from Tibet who held several lineages.

But, what do these strings mean?

They are sometimes called blessing cords and sometimes called protection cords. They are used in several lineages of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism.

These cords are blessed and given by Lamas on important occasions, for example when one takes vows. Taking vows is a part of most branches of Buddhism, but taking vows doesn’t always involve receiving a string. One can also be given a string when one does an important retreat or receives teachings from a well known teacher, especially secret teachings. I was given my yellow string because I received teachings from Lama Lena.

In ancient times, people would just wear their cords until they fell apart. In the modern world they last much longer because we have synthetic material.

Legend has it that these cords can bring good luck or offer some kind of protection.

In the traditional practice the Lama ties a knot in the cord, blows a mantra into it, and makes a blessing. They say this allows you to take your teacher with you, even after they are long gone. Many religious traditions have this kind of process, where a teacher imbues an object with spiritual energy and blessings.

Now, I’ll be honest and tell you, I don’t believe these strings provide any sort of protection or good luck. I’m skeptical of such things. But I do think they serve a purpose.

They can be a reminder.

I have a string that reminds me that I took Refuge Vows. It reminds me that I am a Buddhist and I should live mindfully.

I have a string that reminds me that I took Bodhisattva Vows—that my purpose is to spread compassion and wisdom, to save as many beings and bring as many to Enlightenment as I can.

And I have a string that reminds me that I have received additional teachings. This one reminds me that there is always more to learn and there are always more steps to take.

I have three strings and I have seen people with more.

I think reminders have some value.


_______________________________________________________________

You can get to my podcast “Scharpening the Mind” by clicking here:

https://anchor.fm/daniel-scharpenburg
Please go check it out.

—————————————————————————————————-

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to make a donation here.

Donate

You can also sign up for my  Patreon to support my work and also see a lot more articles like this one. Click here:

Patreon

—————————————————————————————–

(a version of this article originally appeared on The Tattooed Buddha)

Posted in ask a zen teacher, tattooed buddha

Is Compassion Important In Zen?

compassionbuddha

At first glance, it might seem like compassion isn’t important in Zen. There’s a whole lot of emphasis on insight and concentration practices.

It’s true that in the Zen tradition there is a lot of focus on the mystical experience, cultivating insight to try to attain Enlightenment. Texts like the Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra do spend a whole lot more time talking about non-duality than they do about compassion. But I’d argue this is a slight misunderstanding.

The truth is that compassion is fundamental to every branch of Buddhism.

The story of the Buddha tells us that he sat under a tree and attained Enlightenment. At first he thought he couldn’t possibly teach it, because Awakening requires an intuitive understanding and he knew that any explanation would be difficult to express.

But he decided to try anyway. He was motivated by compassion.

In that story we have the two most important aspects of Buddhism, in my opinion. They are great insight and great compassion.

Attaining Enlightenment, striving to Awaken and helping others to do the same IS compassion. If I can become more mindful and aware, I am making the world a better place. When I save myself from the effects of my delusion, I am saving others from the effects of my delusion too.

Additionally, I should mention the vows.

One might have difficulty finding a lot of compassion in sutras and teachings of Zen masters.

But the vows we take in the Zen tradition are clearly motivated by compassion.

Here are the four great vows.

These are often recited in Zen retreats and some practitioners recite them daily:

Sentient beings are numerous. I vow to save them.
Defilements are endless. I vow to eliminate them. 
Buddha’s teachings are unlimited. I vow to learn them. 
The ways of enlightenment are supreme. I vow to achieve them.

We can see right there that the first one is all about helping others. I don’t think it’s an accident that that is the first of the four vows.

Additionally, we have the Bodhisattva Vows, which are all about making sure we are as harmonious as possible in our interactions with others.

And we talk about cultivating the Six Perfections as fundamental to the Buddhist path. These are:
Generosity, Virtue, Patience, Diligence, Concentration, and Wisdom.

Those first three are pretty clearly motivated by compassion, by a desire to engage the world in a way that is positive and helpful, rather than harmful.

At its core Zen is about transcending duality. It’s about tearing down the false barriers that separate us from others. If we engage duality compassion naturally results.

So, in this way, compassion is always fundamental to the path.

 

Posted in tattooed buddha

When Buddhist Practice Becomes Routine

prayer wheel

Historically, there have been two forms of Buddhism.

Actually, there are a lot more than two, but I’m just going to talk about two here.

For simplicity I’m going to refer to them as Temple Buddhism and the Other Buddhism.

Temple Buddhism exists in temples—often simply among monks and laypeople that visit them. Temple Buddhism is centered around the temple, as the name suggests. It involves strict adherence to traditional forms, whether they seem helpful or not.

The Other Buddhism leaves the temple. The Other Buddhism involves going to the forest or going out into the street to take the Dharma to other places. It involves innovation. Often that innovation ends up leading to a new form of Temple Buddhism,which is different from the original.

Right after the Buddha’s death, the Sangha started organizing as monks in temples. And this worked out for a while. People venerated the Buddha. They chanted and did rituals in his name, spent time meditating and it was good.

But then there have been the renegades. I can point to a lot of examples.

Bodhidharma arrived in China and saw a Buddhism that was practiced in the temples there. He thought this Buddhism was lacking, so he went to live in a cave by himself. In Japan, Ikkyu left temple life to go teach the Dharma to prostitutes and alcoholics. And Dogen, thinking that the Buddhism in Japan wasn’t authentic enough, took the journey to China to try to find “real” Buddhism.

In Thailand Buddhadasa Bhikku left temple life to create a retreat center in the forest.

The Buddha himself went to live alone in the forest because he found the spirituality of his time to be lacking. That’s where Buddhism comes from.

We’ve lost a lot of this maverick spirituality in modern Buddhism. People are concerned with being attached to temples, practicing the exact way their teacher did, and not really thinking much outside the box. I’ve known plenty of Buddhist teachers who spend a lot of time just telling stories about their teachers, even doing an impression of their teacher’s accent (when it’s a foreign teacher). To me that’s really weird, but it’s very common.

Like religion in general, too often Buddhism can just become routine.

We perform rituals with no real meaning behind them. We just go through the motions, without really being serious about our practice. I can point to parallels in other religions, like the people who go to church and just sing beautiful hymns in monotone voices, without even thinking about the meaning or enjoying the spiritual practice.

It’s out of these kinds of issues that the Other Buddhism has repeatedly emerged. Because rebellion is what the Buddha did, it’s a natural part of Buddhism. That’s why there are such diverse lineages and practices. Change is an integral part of Buddhism.

To an extent I think we’ve lost sight of that in the modern world. People do have a tendency to think that things have to be a certain way because they always have been.

I often wonder, why.

 

 

http://thetattooedbuddha.com/buddhist-practice-in-a-rut/

Posted in sutra, tattooed buddha

Why I Love the Diamond Sutra

I’m going to tell you about the Diamond Sutra.

The full title is: Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra

A lot of Sutras are about teaching us a lesson or telling us a story, but the Diamond Sutra is different. It’s the story of the Buddha answering the questions of one of his students. And it is important to look at it that way.

But it functions on another level. This Sutra can be your teacher. If you’re open to it this Sutra will help you penetrate delusions, smash through ignorance and dwell in non-dual awareness.

This Sutra isn’t a text about Buddhism or the Buddha, but about Enlightenment. Enlightenment is the core of the Buddha’s teaching, the way and the goal.

This is not a story about the Buddha and it’s not an explanation of some Buddhist concept, but rather a roadmap to Awakening.

This Sutra is called The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion.

Why a diamond? Because diamonds are strong, hard, rare,and indestructible. If we study this Sutra diligently, it will change our lives.

The first line I heard from the Diamond Sutra was, “Arouse the mind without resting it on anything.”
At the time I had no idea what that meant, but it spoke to me. It seemed like a deep and profound truth. Now, of course, I know what it means. It’s a one sentence meditation instruction.

I’ve taken a lot of meditation classes and I’ve read a lot of books on the subject, but that line has kept me on the cushion more than anything else.

If you read this Sutra, there will probably be parts of it where you’ll think “Why am I reading this? He’s talking about grains of sand or how awesome this Sutra is again.” It’s normal to feel that way. I felt that way. Like many Sutras, some parts of it are really repetitive.

But if you persevere, if you take this journey, you won’t regret it.

Do you want to journey to Enlightenment with me?

 

http://thetattooedbuddha.com/why-i-love-the-diamond-sutra/

Posted in tattooed buddha

Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva: Lifting the Broken

Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva

 

I have this tattoo on my right forearm.

People ask me what it is a lot. Once in a while someone knows. This is Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva—he is what’s called a Transcendent Bodhisattva. I’ll explain briefly what a Transcendent Bodhisattva is.

A Bodhisattva is one who has vowed to help others attain Enlightenment. A Transcendent Bodhisattva is a semi-mythical figure. There are many Transcendent Bodhisattvas in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism.

People look to these Transcendent Bodhisattvas for inspiration. Some people believe they literally exist and they live on in some spiritual realm watching over us. Other people (like me) believe that they are powerful metaphors.

I’d compare them to things we talk about in western culture like Mother Earth or the Grim Reaper or Father Time. Do some people believe in them literally? Sure, but usually they’re just used metaphorically.

Different Transcendent Bodhisattvas represent different things. There’s a Bodhisattva of Wisdom and a Bodhisattva of Compassion.

Ksitigarbha is sometimes called the Bodhisattva of Vows. His name means Womb of the Earth (a connection to our ideas about Mother Earth?).

His story is that he vowed to bring other beings to Enlightenment. That’s what Bodhisattvas do, but his specialty was unique. He dedicated himself to saving those beings that are thought to be beyond saving. He vowed to bring to Enlightenment the lost and the broken, the misfits and renegades, travelers and wanderers, the depressed and even the wicked. It’s been said that he gives teachings even to demons—those that most people think wouldn’t deserve the gift of the Dharma.

Because the way of the Bodhisattva isn’t just about bringing Enlightenment to the wise, it’s about bringing it to everyone.

 

As a side note, at the risk of being confusing, in Japan Ksitigarbha is depicted as a child monk named Jizo. In Japanese branches of Buddhism Jizo is a Transcendental Bodhisattva that strives to help lost children find their way.

Jizo

He’s usually depicted with a halo to represent his Awakening, a staff that he uses to open the gates to Hell to enter and give teachings and a jewel which he uses to light up even the darkest places.

Ksitigarbha is a hero to me.

Going to difficult places and lifting up the broken is one of the noblest things I can think of. It makes me think of activism—striving with diligence to make a better world.

It makes me think of standing up when no one else will.

Ksitigarbha is who I want to be like. And, in all honesty, Ksitigarbha is what I think about when I think I’m broken. When I think I’m beyond saving, I can remember that Ksitigarbha tries to save everyone.

Even those who are much more broken than me.

 

http://thetattooedbuddha.com/ksitigarbha-bodhisattva-lifting-those-that-are-broken/