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 stories, zen

Ma-tsu and the treasure

In the 8th century a student went to visit the great master Ma-tsu.

The master asked, “Why have you come here?”

And the student replied, “I seek enlightenement.”
The master said, “Why go out to see it and forget that you have the treasure already? I have nothing to give you.”
The student said, “But what is my treasure?” The master answered, “It contains everything and lacks nothing. There is nothing to seek outside of yourself.”
There are actually a few similar stories about Master Ma-tsu. I really like this one. The student has come asking for some kind of secret to be revealed, a key to Enlightenment.
Ma-tsu is telling him there is no secret. We all have the treasure inside and it’s our true nature. Enlightenment is not something to seek outside of ourselves.
That is the message.
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 ch'an, faith in mind

Faith in Mind

“Simultaneously practice stillness and illumination. Carefully observe, but see nothing, see no body, and see no mind. For the mind is nameless, the body is empty, and all things are dreams. There is nothing to be attained, no enlightenment to be experienced. This is called liberation.”

-Sengcan

Faith In Mind is a long poem about Enlightenment. It was written by the third Chan Patriarch, Sengcan. We use the word ‘faith’, but of course it’s not about faith in some external thing. It’s about faith in our own minds, our inherent Buddha Nature. I think we could substitute the word ‘confidence’ instead.

Most of the large Chan texts were written after the time of the great sixth patriarch. ‘Faith in Mind’ is one of the rare exceptions.

Sengcan lived in the late 500s and early 600s. He’s said to have written this poem and passed it on to his student, the fourth patriarch.

This poem comes down to us as a guide for meditation. It’s significant not only because it’s a very concise guide, but also because it inspired so many later works. One of the things I like to do is explore these earliest texts, to get a feel for where things came from.

‘Faith in Mind’ has an important meaning. It’s really emphasized in the Chan tradition. Faith in mind is just a grounded belief that our true nature is Enlightened, that we share the same basic essence as all things, that it’s only our delusions that cause us to perceive separation. In the midst of our delusion we don’t see our true minds.

Sengcan tries to show us, in this poem, how to take our minds and turn them, turning them away from delusion and toward our inherent Enlightenment, which is always with us and has been with us the whole time. He is going to tell us how to go from the shore of suffering and defilement to the shore of awakening and freedom. We get there, of course, by realizing we’re already there.

You can go over to my column at Patheos to read about this text.

Beginning the Practice

Unifying the Mind with Silence

Comparisons and Anxiety

Being Natural

Oneness and Duality

Rest and Suchness


 

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Posted in buddhism

Basic Goodness

 

I like the Buddhist idea of Basic Goodness.

It’s a term that was coined by Chogyam Trungpa, who was trying to present Buddhist teachings in a way that would resonate with westerners. It represents the same thing, essentially, as the Buddha Nature concept. It’s about our true nature, who we really are.

The teaching is quite simply that you are good enough.

This contrasts with other belief systems that describe humanity as somehow broken or flawed, that teach that we’re rooted in sin and wickedness. This is not to say that we’re perfect, of course no one is. That’s not the point.

The point is that you’re good. I like to think of it like this:

You are the sky. All of your emotional baggage and neuroses and insecurities, that stuff is all just the weather. Regardless of how bad the weather is, behind all the clouds the sky remains untouched. We hold onto these delusions that prevent us from seeing our true nature, that keep us rooted in suffering. The core of these delusions is just not seeing ourselves as we really are, and not seeing the world around us as it really is.

Language is important here, because we tell ourselves all sorts of stories. You are not an angry person. You are a person who sometimes experiences the emotion of anger. See the difference there? I’m expressing the same point, but the tone is a lot different. I’ve shifted it by saying that your anger (or sadness or neediness, or even happiness, whatever) doesn’t define you. We aren’t defined by these things unless we decide to be define by them.

I can and do make all sorts of mistakes, but still, at the core of my being is basic goodness. No flaw, however great, can take away from that.

We all carry around emotional baggage, but it’s not who we are. We let our baggage define us too much. I can think of myself as two divorces, mommy issues, and social anxiety. Or I can think of myself as good, as someone who is simply experiencing this baggage, rather than someone who is defined by it.

 


 

 

 

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Posted in lojong

Lojong Point 4: Make Practice Your Whole Life

This group of slogans is connected with the perfection of diligence. Diligence means that we aren’t lazy in our practice, we are motivated and determined. When we talk about laziness we’re talking about lack of joy on the path. We can think of diligence as developing an appreciation for what we’re doing. The path shouldn’t be a chore. Uncovering our true nature should be something we are delighted to do. It’s been said that the path can’t be walked without diligence. We have a natural resistance to our training but that resistance can be overcome by overcoming laziness with diligence. The fourth point deals with training in our whole life, no separation. Every moment is sacred and important. This diligence on the path is both the result of our practice thus far and the core of our efforts going forward.

17. Practice the Five Strengths

The Five Strengths are an aid to help us develop diligence. Here they are:

Strong Determination: this means not wasting our time. Practice is our way of transforming ourselves and not practicing is a waste of our time. The idea behind this is that even when we first wake up in the morning we are thinking about or cultivating bodhicitta. The point is that we’re rousing our basic goodness and because of this we are feeling more determined in our practice. This is how we begin to take ourselves seriously as spiritual practitioners. We have the energy within us to walk the path. Strong determination is about finding our motivation on the path and not losing sight of it.

Familiarization: Because we’ve developed strong determination we now have a natural feeling about the practice. Even when we are mindless and unaware, reminders start coming up that make us think of going back to our practice. Bodhicitta has become part of our everyday life. Whatever we do becomes a reminder. Because we’re bringing to mind the teachings over and over, we can think of them at any time.

Seed of Virtue: Our inherent wakefulness is the seed of virtue. We are dwelling in this wakefulness without taking a break. Because of this wakefulness our body, speech, and mind are all dedicated to cultivating bodhicitta. This is where we recognize our true nature.

Reproach: this is reproaching our egoic mind. It’s where we are repulsed by the ego clinging that has done harm to us and those around us. It’s when we realize how much harm our selfishness often causes us and deciding that we don’t want to be harmed anymore.

Aspiration: This is where we dedicate our practice. We want to end each meditation session by declaring the wish to : 1) save all beings  2) not forget bodhicitta  3) apply bodhicitta in spite of any obstacles that come up. This is the same kind of aspiration one has in taking the bodhisattva vows.

18. Practice For Death As Well As For Life

Understanding the truths of suffering and impermanence is important in Buddhist practice. The fact of the matter is that all of us are going to die. Because we are born, we are going to die. This slogan is about accepting our fate instead of railing against it all the time. We want to cultivate those five strengths from the previous slogan, even while we’re dying. Knowing and accepting that we are going to pass away one day also helps us be more motivated on the path.

Posted in lojong

Lojong Point 3: Transformation Of Bad Circumstances Into The Path

This group of slogans is connected with the perfection of patience. This represents our forbearance, our ability to face the difficulties of life without letting them carry us away. The opposite of this is the poison of aversion. This is the capacity to experience difficult with strength and endurance.

This section contains six slogans.

11. Transform All Mishaps Into The Path

Whatever occurs in our lives can be transformed into the path to Enlightenment. Whether we have relationship problems, difficulties with our jobs, health problems…all of these can be just part of the path. Life is full of suffering. We can respond to it with wakefulness instead of despair. It probably sounds like trite self help, but, when people are treating us badly we can use that to help us practice patience. When we experience financial difficulty, we can use that to practice generosity, in the sense of letting go of things.

12. Drive All Blames Into One

Drive all blames into one means that our problems and the complications that are around us aren’t somebody else’s fault, especially in relation to our practice. All the blame can start with us. It’s not necessarily that everything is our own fault in a conventional sense, but we’re driving all blames into one so that we can enter the bodhisattva path. When we drive all blames into one we aren’t laying any of our emotional baggage or blame on anyone else. Because passing blame isn’t helpful. The reason we have to drive all blames into one is because we’ve spent our lives cherishing ourselves and reinforcing our egoic minds. Driving blames into one means we are taking full responsibility for our practice and our lives, regardless of who we could blame for our circumstances.

13. Be Grateful To Everyone

Everything is part of our spiritual journey. Without the world being how it is, there would be no opportunities for us to practice. All of our experiences in life are grounded in our relationships with others. So, the obstacles that others might present to us can be used for our awakening. This slogan follows number 12 for a reason. Once we have taken the responsibility for the circumstances of our lives, it’s easier to be grateful to others. Without others we wouldn’t have the chance to practice compassion or patience. So, everyone around is part of the path. This slogan is about cultivating an understanding that we aren’t separate from other beings. We are all one. So, gratitude is the only response that makes sense. Once we cultivate this kind of open hearted gratitude, we come to dwell in this sense of oneness.

 

14. See Confusion As Enlightenment And Dwell In Emptiness

In this slogan we are talking about developing a better understanding of the way we perceive things. We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are. We may not see our minds as Enlightened, but Enlightenment is our true nature and we can engage that. This slogan is founded in using our meditation practices to work with our minds. By practicing diligently we can come to realize that the essence of our being is Emptiness. On the cushion we practice mindfulness and awareness. While we’re practicing confusing thoughts come up and we can come to realize that our thoughts have no real origin, that there is no ‘me’ underneath to cling to. Dwelling in Emptiness is a powerful way to cut through our delusions and emotional baggage. We can perceive our ordinary confusion from a different point of view. We can realize that all of these thoughts and emotions are going to rise and pass away. There’s nothing to hold onto. If we can just pull ourselves away from our baggage and preconceptions for a moment, we can see things as they really are.

 

 

15. The Four Practices Are Great Methods

This slogan refers to specific things we can do in our daily life. They are in four categories: doing good, lay down your evil deeds, offering to demons, offering to spirits.

Doing good refers to relating to right action, the cultivation of virtue. When we cultivate virtue we are dwelling in basic goodness, the state of our true nature. We aren’t talking about doing good to receive some kind of reward, but doing good to establish ourselves as virtuous beings on the path.

Laying down our evil deeds starts with looking back at our pasts and seeing how foolish we’ve been. Everyone has a past, a history full of things that they aren’t proud of. The first step is to recognize what your issues are and get tired of them. The second step is to refrain from making the same mistakes in the future that we’ve made in the past. The third step is taking refuge. We are using the dharma to help us transform ourselves into the best versions of ourselves. The fourth step is developing a kind of openness. We don’t hate ourselves for what we’ve done in the past, but we are proud to be able to refrain from the same actions in the future.

Offering to demons is not something I take literally. This is where we appreciate our weaknesses and flaws. We recognize our weaknesses for what they are and acknowledge them as part of our journey, not as reasons to hate ourselves.

Offering to spirits is also not something I take literally. The spirits represent our basic awareness, our ability to be here and now in this moment. We realize our awareness is something we can cultivate and we appreciate that.

 

16 Whatever You Meet Is The Path

We have the ability to bring the awareness we are cultivating to any situation in life. The concept behind it is that we aren’t going to make enemies out of everything. Whatever comes up isn’t a sudden problem to be overcome or a positive thing to encourage us. Everything just is what it is. Whatever happens, make it part of your spiritual practice.

 

 

Posted in ch'an, zen

Our Empty Nature

Form is Emptiness,
Emptiness is Form.

That’s what the Heart Sutra said. Emptiness is all, from the very beginning.

We have to dig through and penetrate all of our delusions to really get at the truth of things. We have to put down our baggage and habitual thought patterns. We have to let go of who we thought we were. Because that’s not who we are.

Only then can we dwell in our true nature, which is emptiness.

Our true nature isn’t our history; we aren’t what happened to us.

Our true nature isn’t our weaknesses; we aren’t defined by our flaws.

Our true nature isn’t the circumstances of our birth; we aren’t defined by our heritage, status, or nationality.

Our true nature is emptiness, the source of all things, a vast field of boundless possibility that transcends all of the dualistic filters through which we see the world.

When we sit and develop awareness: settling our thoughts, stilling the mind, we can dwell in wonder and wakefulness. We can engage our true nature right now.