Posted in ch'an, zen

Your Mind is Moving

Huineng came upon two monks who were arguing. They were having a silly argument to try to prove how smart they were. They were watching a flag rippling in the wind.

The first monk said, “The flag is moving.”

The second monk said, “No, the wind is moving.”

Huineng saw them having this ridiculous debate and he said, “It’s your minds that are moving.”

We often don’t see things as clearly as Huineng. We are confused. Our neuroses and our baggage shape the way we perceive the world. We get distracted and have trouble being present in our lives. Because we don’t see things as they are and because we aren’t present in our lives, we suffer. We also suffer because we struggle to accept the realities of impermanence and change. Everything is always changing and there’s nothing to hold onto.

Our goal is to learn how to see, how to really see the world as it really is. Another goal is to learn how to be more real, more genuine and authentic in our lives. We’re trying to put down our delusions. We’re trying to turn our minds so that we can engage the world as our true selves. Our true nature is awakened and good. If we engage the world as our true selves, then we can see things as they really are. That’s when real change happens.

We don’t see reality as it is because we often come from a state of mind that I call I-Me-Mine. This state of mind mis-perceives the world because we don’t recognize that it’s all changing. We address all of this by turning our minds around. The way out is in.

The purpose of this path is to engage the world as our true selves and to see things as they really are.

The Chan Sect was created by two great historical figures; Bodhidharma and Huineng. Their teaching was essentially this: “Rid the mind of egotism! Free it of defiling thoughts!”

The path lies before us. We can awaken to our true selves.

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Posted in meditation

Is Meditation Boring?

Meditation tends to be a struggle for a lot of people. People come to the path with a lot of expectations.

The practice I teach is called Silent Illumination. It’s a bare bones and simple practice. Well, that’s not true. There’s a lot to it. But the instructions are very simple. We are sitting very still, being very quiet, and doing nothing.

We’re not trying to focus on anything. We aren’t trying to stop thinking (good luck) or trying to redirect our thoughts toward some weird picture or something. We are just sitting very still and being very quiet.

“The practice of true reality is simply to sit serenely in silent introspection.” -Hongzhi

It sounds like we’re doing nothing. I’ve had people say, “is that it?” more than once when I present the practice. It sounds like nothing, but what we’re doing is settling into the present moment. When the body is still the mind becomes still of it’s own accord. We’re not forcing anything because we don’t have to.

We may tell ourselves while we’re practicing that nothing is happening…but that’s not really true. There’s never a point where nothing is happening. Things are happening all the time. Wonderful, painful, scary things. There’s never a moment when nothing is going on and life is never really boring. If we really come into our experience we can see that.

 But the truth is that only boring people get bored. What we’re doing with this practice is really learning to pay attention. When we train in attention, we can start to see how not-boring everything is. The world is transformed by our attention.

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Upcoming Events:

5/18/19: 11am-Noon

Fountain City Meditation: Meditation on the Nelson Lawn

Nelson Atkins Museum – South Lawn

4525 Oak Street

Kansas City, MO

This is a public event. We’re meditating on the lawn of the Nelson Museum, just south of “The Thinker” statue. 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 videos

Living Your Best Life (Video)

This is a talk I gave on an old Zen teaching from Bodhidharma called “The Four Zen Gates.”

In this talk I try to bring an old Zen teaching to life to help us understand it a little better.

Live Your Best Life!

 

 

related articles:

Bodhidharma

Bodhidharma’s Two Entries

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Posted in han shan

Boring is OK

Those who pursue money are always rushed, always busy with urgent matters. Those who pursue the Dharma, go slow and easy. “Boring” you say? Maybe. Maybe it’s downright dreary to stop and smell a flower or listen to a bird. Maybe a glint of gold is really more dazzling than the sight of one’s Original Face. Maybe what we need is a better definition of “treasure”. -Master Silly Mountain

Go slow and easy. We seem to have lost our ability to relax in the modern era. We try hard to keep busy. But there’s something more significant than that. We also don’t want to be bored. Entertainment is so common these days that we’ve come to expect it. By entertainment I mean anything that’s designed to take you away from where you are. Maybe most people don’t think of their phones as entertainment, but that’s what they are. I struggle with that myself. I really don’t want to be waiting in line anywhere, so when I’m waiting in line I’m checking my phone. I’m either scrolling through Facebook or reading emails. I’m always doing this. Where did I get the idea that I should be entertained all the time? And I don’t think that’s rare. From what I can see by watching other people, that thing I do in line at the store is really really common. We should be willing to let ourselves be a little bored. This is advice I really need to take. Go for a walk alone without wearing headphones. Drive to work without the radio on. Just sit on the couch, not checking Facebook, not watching Netflix, no doing anything. Just BE. The truth is there are no ordinary moments. Even the moments that seem boring can be full of wonder. We’re just missing them. Let’s bring back boredom.

Posted in han shan

Master Silly Mountain

Han Shan Deqing (1546-1623)  is an important figure from the history of Ch’an Buddhism who isn’t well known. They called him Silly Mountain(not to be confused with the other monk named Han Shan, who they called Cold Mountain).

He lived in China and is regarded as a great reformer. He spent a lot of time just wandering from monastery to monastery giving teachings and helping spread the dharma. He was renowned as a great lecturer and commentator and he advocated practicing Ch’an and Pure Land practice side-by-side, which is  pretty universal in modern Ch’an Buddhism today.

It has been suggested that he questioned the value of the system of Dharma Transmission, saying that real enlightenment is beyond such things as certificates and doing the right rituals. Even today, in the modern west,  that’s a scandalous thing to say. Throughout much of the Ch’an/Zen community Dharma Transmission is considered beyond questioning.

Han Shan wrote many commentaries, lectures, and poems. He was a great inspiration to Master Hsu Yun and as such he is revered in the lineages that are descended from him, but outside of those groups he’s largely unknown in spite of his great accomplishments. Master Hsu Yun has long been an inspiration to me, but I’ve only recently delved into the teachings of his hero, Han Shan Deqing. (the hero of my hero is my hero? maybe)

You can read the “The Maxims of Master Han Shan” here.

I’ll close with an example of a poem that Han Shan Deqing wrote (source). I think this a profound statement about our practice on the path and requires no commentary from me:

 

“When the bow’s stiff, its string is first to snap;

The sharper a blade is, the easier to chip.

Trouble results from a talkative tongue,

Harmful deeds reflect a hardened heart.”


 

Upcoming Events

9/9/18: 9:00AM-10:15AM

tam bao

Dharma Talk and Meditation

Tam Bao Buddhist Temple

16933 E 21st St, Tulsa, OK 74134

I’ve been invited to travel to a beautiful Buddhist temple to give a dharma talk. While we’re there, we’ll have the opportunity to visit the largest Buddhist statue in America.

To learn more about this group, click HERE

Posted in zen

“I have pacified your mind” (video)

This is the story of Bodhidharma and his student Huike.

Let me know what you think.

 


Upcoming Events:

8/25/18: 11:00AM-11:30AM

Meditation Mob KC

Nelson Atkins Museum of Art

4525 Oak Street
Kansas City, MO 64111

We are going to meet up on the south lawn of the Nelson Museum and we’re going to meditate in public. I’ll give a little bit of guidance and a short talk and we will sit (in the shade of course) and meditate together with open hearts and awakened minds.

Go like the page Kansas City Zen to get updates for events like this.

9/9/18: 9:00AM-10:15AM

Dharma Talk and Meditation

Tam Bao Buddhist Temple

16933 E 21st St, Tulsa, OK 74134

I’ve been invited to travel to a beautiful Buddhist temple to give a dharma talk. While we’re there, we’ll have the opportunity to visit the largest Buddhist statue in America.

To learn more about this group, click HERE

Posted in ch'an

Small Successes

Great accomplishments are composed of minute details. Those who succeed in attaining the Whole have attended carefully to each tiny part. Those who fail have ignored or taken too lightly what they deemed to be insignificant. The enlightened person overlooks nothing. -Han Shan Deqing

 

Every little success matters. It can be easy, especially in our meditation practice, to think we aren’t getting anywhere. We spend so much time on the cushion, trying and trying and trying to still our minds. It can be maddening at times.

We can set the timer, sit down on the cushion, and just wait for time to pass. We are sometimes not engaged with the practice at all. Sometimes we sit there and after a while we start to think “has the timer broken? It must have been fifteen minutes by now!” We all experience this sometimes. I can’t tell you how many times someone has found out I’m a meditator and said some version of, “I wish I could get my mind to calm down and settle long enough to meditate.” When someone says something like that, they don’t understand that it’s something we all struggle with, that it doesn’t come easy and it takes a lot of work to really settle the mind in any meaningful way.

All of that being said, I’m here to tell you one simple thing.

Trying to meditate counts as meditating. We don’t do it to have some great successes. We do the practice just to do the practice. And when we do it over and over, there are small successes for us to notice if we pay attention. Maybe you’re a little more attentive when your child is talking to you. Or when you’re changing lanes on the highway, or when you’re noticing a sunset.

These are little successes. Little successes are what the path is made of.

People come to the path and expect big successes right away and that doesn’t happen. It’s the little details that we have to notice. Celebrate small successes.

 

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 ch'an, tattooed buddha

The Teaching of Huineng

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

Huineng was the Sixth Patriarch of Chan Buddhism.

Chan is called the Meditation School. It was created as an effort to focus more on the core teachings of Buddhism: the cultivation of mindfulness and awareness. Chan Buddhism is focused on this life, here and now. Our true nature is something that’s always present and not something we have to wait for. We can all dwell in wakefulness right now, in this life, not in some future one.

Huineng’s importance to the tradition cannot be overstated; all of Chan Buddhism comes from what he taught. His teachings are collected in the Platform Sutra, a sacred text of the Chan School. It’s the only text that is recognized as a Sutra in Mahayana Buddhism that isn’t claimed to be directly from the Buddha.

The Sutra is a collection of Dharma talks by Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch of Chan Buddhism. It includes a long series of teachings that present Chan philosophy, and it also includes Huineng’s own life story.

Huineng was a poor person, not someone with any connections or any great learning. And it’s said that he attained enlightenment under the Fifth Patriarch Hongren and quickly became a great master. He came from nothing and inherited leadership of the Chan School. His story really tells us that we can succeed on the path too. If he can, anyone can.

The time of Huineng’s life was said to be the Golden Age of Buddhism in China. It was during this time that the different schools were spreading throughout China and growing at an exponential rate.

Huineng is known for his teachings on “Sudden Enlightenment.” The basic idea is that we can become enlightened in this life. In some schools of Buddhism they emphasize a practice where you are trying to get better and better in each life, so hopefully some day you’ll be reborn in a life where you can attain enlightenment (lots of people don’t believe in rebirth at all these days, me included). Huineng taught that we could attain enlightenment in this life. Later, Buddhists in some other sects would work with the same idea, but it seems to have originate from Huineng.

He’s also known for teaching without relying on a lot of words or writing. He did a lot more showing students how to practice than telling them.

During and after Huineng’s life, many great Chan masters became teachers and the Chan School spread. In this time a lot of other schools of Buddhism were founded, and they lived side by side, without conflict. Some even shared the same temples, so you’d see Chan students meditating right alongside Huayan students and Pure Land students. Rather than fighting, as religious sects might do today, these schools benefited from being around each other. They influenced each other a lot too.

It may have been Huineng’s “Sudden Enlightenment” teaching that drew many Buddhists to his school. It was a new idea at that time, and it really inspired a lot of people.

That’s what I believe in. Enlightenment is right here with us. It’s not some far away goal for us to chase.

It’s right here. We just have to turn our minds away from delusion and toward wakefulness. Easier said than done, of course. But the message of Huineng is that we can do it. All of us can.

 


 

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Posted in bodhisattva

Nagarjuna

Nagarjuna is one of my heroes in Buddhist history.

He was a scholar and adventurer, a mystic and wanderer. And a prolific writer whose work is still with us today.

He’s sometimes called the Second Buddha. He’s the only figure given such a high distinction. He lived in the second century and he’s considered a key figure in several different branches of Buddhism. He’s revered in Zen Buddhism as a patriarch and in Vajrayana Buddhism as a treasure revealer.

He came from the southern part of India. It’s said that he lived for 600 years, but of course that’s a legend. It’s said that he came from a Brahmin family, but other than that very little is known about his life before he became a dharma teacher.

He was a Buddhist monk but also a renegade scholar. He traveled around teaching everyone, not just monks. He presented the same kinds of teachings to everyone, rather than giving some teachings to monks and lesser teachings to everyone else. This was probably unheard of at the time. It seems that he just traveled around giving teachings, but also doing an incredible amount of writing. There’s a tradition of mystic scholars in Buddhism now but Nagarjuna is really one of the early ones.

He was an adherent of the Mahayana School, which emphasizes the Bodhisattva path of wisdom and compassion. He defended Mahayana practice, which many Buddhists at the time believed wasn’t authentic Buddhism. He founded his own branch of Buddhism called Madhyamika, or middle way.

He’s also associated with the Prajnaparamita, or Perfection of Wisdom, sutras. This collection of sutras is really foundational to all of the Mahayana Path. The legend is that these teachings were given to him by snake-like spiritual beings called nagas that came out of the bottom of the sea. The story is that the Buddha, during his life, had given the teachings to these beings for safekeeping until the world was ready. For this reason he’s often depicted with snakes around. That’s where his name comes from. It means Noble Naga, or Noble Serpent.

That was a thing people felt the need to do in those days. It was believed that every teaching has to come from the Buddha. But since he had been dead for hundreds of years, that wasn’t possible. So this elaborate story was created, not just for these teachings from Nagarjuna, but for all sorts of teachings.

The Prajnaparamita Sutras are my favorites. And I tend to think Nagarjuna wrote them. We don’t need elaborate mythology to explain why his ideas are Buddhist. We recognize that Buddhism is an evolving culture of awakening, not a system that depends entirely on the teachings of one man.

Nagarjuna was a monk, but he addressed his teachings to all sorts of audiences.  His overriding theme is the bodhisattva journey, the cultivation of compassion and wisdom in order to attain Enlightenment. By wisdom, he meant an understanding of emptiness.  He’s also credited with taking the confusing ways emptiness was expressed in older sutras and making it a little easier to understand. Not that emptiness is ever easy to understand, but Nagarjuna expressed it with far less reliance on metaphorical speculations and wild mythology than the Buddha or other early teachers did.

The Buddha talked about walking a “middle way” between the extremes of self denial and self indulgence. What Nagarjuna did was extend that middle way view to philosophy. He identified our existence as a middle way between real and imagined, between permanence and oblivion. In Nagarjuna’s view delusion is the source of our suffering and it’s a belief in separation, a dualistic worldview. It’s the belief that think things exist independently and permanently. Emptiness, in Nagarjuna’s view is not lack of existence, but rather lack of dualistic existence, lack of separation, lack of boundaries. We are empty like the sky, boundless and beautiful.

We take these teachings for granted now, in modern Buddhism, but they came from Nagarjuna. He was inspired by the Buddha and writing in the Buddhist tradition, but he was the one that explained things in this way.

He said that we should dwell in emptiness, that an intuitive understanding of the emptiness inherent in all things is the road to enlightenment. He said,”For whom emptiness is possible, everything is possible.”

He also created Bodhisattva Vows. Well, there are two different branches of Bodhisattva Vows, and he created one of them, the one that’s called “The Profound View”. This is a series of vows that is taken in the Mahayana tradition as a way to strengthen and demonstrate our commitment to the Bodhisattva path, to cultivate compassion and wisdom for ourselves and others. We take this vow to demonstrate our great determination to cultivate the six perfections; generosity, virtue, patience, diligence, concentration, and wisdom.

The Bodhisattva’s journey was further elaborated later on by a monk named Shantideva in a well known work called The Way of the Bodhisattva.

Everything I write about and practice comes from Nagarjuna. And because I took his Bodhisattva path, I am part of his lineage.