Posted in buddhism

Simplicity

We think of the Buddha as this grand spiritual teacher, but what if he wasn’t? I picture the Buddha as a practical person. He was a lot more interested in what we can do in our lives than in complicated doctrines. That seems obvious.

He came up with this unique idea, the truth of suffering and how to overcome it. He was an innovator. He was followed by a series of teachers who turned his ideas into a religion and also a philosophy. The way he taught it was really neither.

He was just a guy who was encouraging people to find the freedom to experience life more fully by engaging with the present moment, but cultivating awareness and compassion.

The teachings of the Buddha weren’t always complicated, but they sure have become that way over the years. He just encourages us to face reality as it is.

It can be hard for us to accept how simple things really are. That’s why people have gone out of their way to try to make Buddhism more complicated.

I’ve taught a lot of people how to meditate over the years and there have been many times when people say, “That’s it?”

Because they expect more than the simple practice of being right here.

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Posted in buddhism, ch'an, zen

The Great Way

“The Great Way is Gateless,

Approached in a thousand ways.

Once past this checkpoint

You stride through the universe.”

 

This is the opening of the famous Zen text “The Gateless Gate”.

It sounds like weird hippie nonsense. A lot of old Zen sayings like this are a little hard to unpack because sometimes they seem so weird.

I think it’s worth a second look.

The Great Way is the path we’re on. The path inspired by the Buddha, the cultivating of awareness and compassion. Find your true nature and help others, that sums up the path.

When we say it’s gateless, we’re saying there’s nothing stopping you. It’s right there, like an open door. Your true nature is always with you. It’s never not present. The door is open. Spiritual teachers can point you to the door, but they don’t open it for you. It’s already open. The gate is gateless. We could say teachers are just selling water by the river.

“If you can’t find enlightenment here and now, where else do you expect to find it?” -Dogen

Your true nature is free and awake, you just have to notice that the gate is open.

It’s approached in a thousand ways because we all come to the path bringing different things with us. My difficulty on the path might be giving into temptation all the time or making excuses to not meditate. Yours might be a tendency to give into anger, or to compare yourself to others too much. We’re all a little different and we come to the path for different reasons, so it’s approached in a thousand ways.

But we’re all on the same path.

And once we enter the gate, freedom is on the other side. The freedom to put down our emotional baggage and our insecurities and our fixations. When we can put those down and truly see ourselves as we are, we can stride through the universe.

“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” -Rumi

What do we need to do? We need to set our intention. We need to decide we want to go through the gateless gate. That’s the beginning.

Posted in mindfulness

Bringing the Mind Here

One of the things we’re trying to do in our meditation practice is to bring our minds here, into the present moment. To do this we have to get a handle on our wandering thoughts.

So often in life we aren’t present. We’re daydreaming or ruminating or fantasizing. These things aren’t bad, but we’re missing things in the here and now.

The Buddha said, “Stopping is awakening,” and he was talking about stopping the way our wandering thoughts drag us around. Bodhidharma said, “Put down the myriad entangling conditions; let not one thought arise.” This means put down your crap. Stop seeing the world through the lens of your selfishness. Stop getting carried away all the time by wandering thoughts. Assert control of your mind. If we can do that, then we can awaken to our true nature.

Posted in ch'an, zen

Zen and Zen Stories

What we call the Zen school is really a mix of a few different things.

It includes the original teaching of the Buddha, which I call First Turning Buddhism, and the spirit of Chinese culture at the time. What we call “Zen meditation” is a method for training the mind that is practiced in First Turning Buddhism and in what we call the Great Way, Mahayana Buddhism.

The original word is Dhyana, which means “concentration” or “quiet meditation”. So, when we talk about the Zen Tradition we’re really talking about “The Tradition That Practices Meditation”. But if we’re honest, a lot of traditions practice meditation, although that wasn’t the case when the Zen Tradition started. The Zen tradition is also sometimes called the Mind School, or the Prajna School, which I think might have been a cooler name. This is because the tradition is all about training the mind in order to engage our true selves.

But, while the tradition started out as a get-back-to-meditation, kind of bare bones approach…it’s slowly deviated from that, sometimes moving away from the it’s roots, as traditions often do. In plenty of Zen circles you won’t see anything resembling a bare bones approach.

 

Anyway,

The earliest Zen teachers really wanted to set Zen apart. There were a lot of Buddhist traditions in China at the time and some of them said the path to Enlightenment was very easy.

The truth is beyond words. It’s about practice and not study. That’s the important point that the Zen teachers were trying to emphasize. They thought too many people were into studying Buddhism and not very many were into actually practicing Buddhism.

Zen isn’t something you learn about, it isn’t something you study, and it isn’t something you are. It’s something you do.

That’s how Zen teachers started telling stories. Stories are words too, though. Obviously they are made up of words. The Zen stories are words that tell you how to go beyond words. Stories about people who were attached to words and had that attachment shattered. Kind of silly an circular, if we really think about it.

Stories are helpful because they can be used to illustrate a point. Sometimes the difference between a successful religion and one that struggles to find followers is based entirely on which religion has better stories. We love stories.

Here’s a story.

The Buddha stood at a place called Vulture Peak in front of a bunch of people. There were monks and nuns and also regular people like you and me. It’s said that there were a million people, but that seems far-fetched. It’s said that spirits and celestial beings were there too, but I don’t believe those are real.

People were expecting a teaching and the Buddha just stood there, not saying anything. Everyone was just sitting there waiting, looking around awkwardly. I’m imagining what it would be like to go to a concert and see the band just standing on stage not performing.

Then, the Buddha held up a pretty flower and twirled it, showing it to everyone.

So, still everyone was standing around awkwardly.

And one guy who they call Kasyapa the Elder just smiled.

 

That’s supposed to be the beginning of the tradition. They say Kasyapa was the first Zen teacher. They say the teachings were entrusted to him because he understood the truth that’s beyond words. There is as much truth in a pretty flower as there is in a teaching. Enlightenment is right here. It’s everywhere. That’s the message.

I once heard someone say, “Just because it’s made up doesn’t mean it’s less true.”

Kasyapa was a real person and was considered one of the best monks in the early sangha. The point of the story isn’t “this really happened” or maybe originally that was it’s purpose but we don’t have to pretend it really happened now. (no one wrote about this or, as far as we can tell, told this story until hundreds of years after the Buddha’s lifetime)

The point is it tells us something.

Talking about Buddhism is great. Learning about Buddhism is great too. But sometimes life is about paying attention and noticing little things. Sometimes it’s about looking at a pretty flower.

Stop and smell the roses. Don’t attach to words so much, even Buddhist words. The truth is right here.

That being said…now I wonder if people in the Zen Tradition are becoming too attached to stories, if they’re thinking of them as IMPORTANT rather than as useful teaching tools. I hope we don’t forget that the tradition came from teachers who wanted a simpler, back-to-basics approach to Buddhism.

Zen is full of stories like this, of some teacher pointing the way in a creative way. That’s really what sets Zen apart the most. The teachers are still pointing and we just have to look.

Posted in videos

Faith, Determination, Doubt | Video

Great Faith, Great Determination, Great Doubt. These are called the Three Essentials of Practice. So Sahn said that a practice that is missing any of these is like a table missing a leg.

 

The text I reference in the video is “Mirror of Zen”. You can get my commentary on this wonderful text by clicking here:

Mirror of Zen

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UPCOMING EVENTS

4/20/19: 11am-Noon

Fountain City Meditation: Meditate For Our Lives at Unity Southeast

Unity Southeast KC

3421 East Meyer Boulevard

Kansas City, MO

This is a public event. We’re meditating outside of a church. I’m going to give a short talk and a bit of guidance, then we will sit together. Tell all your friends.

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Posted in interfaith

Buddhism and Religion (Video)

This is a live video I did  in the Tattooed Buddha Community Group.

I encourage you to join that group, which you can get to here:
Tattooed Buddha Community

I explored questions about whether a Christian can practice Buddhism, among other things.

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My blog: https://danielscharpenburg.com/

Posted in bodhisattva, way of the bodhisattva

Bodhicitta

Bodhicitta is the quality that drives away the suffering in ourselves and others. “Bodhi” means awake, free from delusion. “Citta” means mind. So this is about the mind of awakening that we’re trying to develop and strengthen.

The way of the Bodhisattva is the way of compassion and wisdom, of realizing your own boundless potential. It comes from realizing that Enlightenment is our true nature, that we have a basic goodness and wakefulness that is fundamental to our being.

Bodhicitta is what the diligence of the Bodhisattva is based on. It’s what helps us overcome the delusions that keep us from seeing our true nature. These delusions are things that we can overcome. They are impermanent like everything else. They may obscure our minds, but we can overcome them. Bodhicitta is our tool for doing this.

In “The Way of the Bodhisattva,” Shantideva said this about Bodhicitta:

The mighty buddhas, pondering for many ages,

Have seen that this, and only this, will save

The boundless multitudes,

And bring them easily to supreme joy.

People have been talking about the great benefits of Bodhicitta for a long time. Although the same words aren’t always used, these kinds of spiritual teachings have been present throughout history. Bodhicitta is so powerful because it helps us combat our self-centeredness. It gives us a chance to put down some of our egotism. We all share the same suffering and craving. By having that aspiration to save all beings we free ourselves from that mind that thinks “I-Me-Mine” all the time. We can think about our shared humanity. These teachings are here to direct us toward more compassionate living.


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Posted in buddha

Bodhi Day

2,550 (or so) years ago today a man sat under a tree.

He saw a really divided world, where people struggled and argued and fought with each other, often over trivial things.

He saw people who valued greed over kindness,

He saw people who valued hate over love,

He saw people who valued lies over the truth.

And he saw that these people were not happy.

 

He saw people not finding fulfillment in their lives. He saw people railing against their own suffering, often making things worse.

 

And he thought, “we can do better.”

 

So he sat under a tree and tried to figure out the nature of the human condition.

 

And he became known as the Buddha. He taught a better way for people to live. A way centered in mindfulness and compassion. We can be better than we are.

 

But Buddhism isn’t about his enlightenment, not really.

 

It’s about yours.

 

The Buddha was right. We can do better.

 

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.