Posted in ch'an, zen

Sit Serenely

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

“Here you can rest and become clean, pure, and lucid. Bright and penetrating, you can immediately, return, accord, and respond to deal with events. Everything is unhindered, clouds gracefully floating up to the peaks, the moonlight glitteringly flowing down mountain streams. The entire place is brightly illumined and spiritually transformed.”

“If you accord everywhere with thorough clarity and cut off sharp corners without dependence on doctrines, you can be called a complete person.”

-Hongzhi *

 

We are sitting quietly and doing nothing. That’s the practice.

It sounds like nothing, but there’s so much in the present moment. When we’re sitting it seems very boring a lot of the time. But if we learn how to really pay attention, then we can see things clearly.

We may tell ourselves, when we’re sitting with the practice…that nothing is happening. But there’s never a point where nothing is happening. Things are happening all the time, wonderful things, painful things, scary things, and beautiful things. There are always so many things happening. And it’s never boring. We have this idea in our heads these days that we have a sort of right to be entertained all the time, that we should never be bored, even for a second. There is so much we have created to help entertain and distract us that even a moment of dullness seems uncomfortable. That makes meditation practice scary, in a way. Sitting and doing nothing sounds like the boringest thing we could possibly do.

Not only am I listening to podcasts during my work day, I’m also listening to them in my car, on the way to my car, when I’m going for walks. Why? Because I want to be entertained.

But the truth is this: only boring people get bored. When we learn to pay attention, when we train in mindfulness, we can start to see how not-boring everything is. We don’t need distractions. We can listen and see and feel and think. These things are only boring if we are boring people. Let’s not be boring.

The world is transformed by our attention. Awareness makes everything bright and glittering. Even the bad parts of life can take on new meaning if we learn how to see them and be fully present with them.

It really is up to us how we see things. We can see our meditation practice as a boring chore that we don’t want to do. Or we can see it as entering the circle of wonder, training in awareness and clarity. The choice is ours.

Sharp corners are those things that stop us from seeing clearly; our emotional baggage, our neuroses and confusion…the things that cause us to close our hearts and build barriers between ourselves and our experience. If we can put down these things once in a while, then we can see the world clearly.

What’s a complete person?

It’s all based on how we feel, I think. When we are filled with delusion and our attention is fragmented…we feel incomplete. If we’re not paying attention it’s very easy for us to feel like we’re not good enough.

A complete person is just one who is aware, who sees the world and their place in it clearly. Pay attention and you’ll be complete.

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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

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Posted in enlightenment

Waking Up

Awakening and freedom.

That’s what the path is all about. Enlightenment really just means awareness, seeing things as they really are. Reality unfiltered. The world as it is instead of as we think it is.

We come to enlightenment by freeing ourselves of the three poisons; greed, hatred, and delusion. We free ourselves by transforming these poisons. We transform them to virtue, meditation, and wisdom.

The truth is that enlightenment is simply not creating delusions. When we’re in delusion we think we have to escape it. When we dwell in awareness we realize these poisons, the things we cling to, are empty. By realizing things are empty we come to enlightenment.

But we can’t grasp it with the logical mind. We have to use intuition and direct experience. And you get there by realizing you’re already there.

 

 

Posted in emptiness, Mahayana

Freedom in Emptiness

Once we realize the truth of emptiness and interconnectedness, we are free. The path is sometimes called ‘liberation’ and that is the reason why. There is freedom in the path. We can meet the world without such strong expectations. We can face the world without making enemies out of it all the time.

In this way we can stride through the universe, wild and free in our understanding of the way things really are. We can expose ourselves to the world with complete openness.

When we begin to realize that the nature of things is actually empty, then things don’t seem to be in our way anymore. There is nothing stopping us from expanding our love and compassion infinitely.

The purpose of talking about emptiness is to realize that if there’s no separation, then we are free.

 

 

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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 buddhism, lojong

Lojong Point 2: Training in Bodhicitta

This is where things really start.

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. Bodhicitta means the mind of awakening. 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.

Bodhicitta combines emptiness, compassion, and wisdom. To engage wisdom we have to work out overcoming our attachment to ourselves. To engage compassion we have to work on overcoming our possessiveness and aggression. To engage emptiness we have to learn to relate to our basic goodness in a way that is direct and complete.

Bodhicitta is central to Mahayana Buddhist teachings. It is the basis of being awake and freeing our minds.

We don’t really cultivate the awakened state as something separate from ourselves or as something new. We are trying to realize that we already have this basic goodness as part of our being. It has always been there. Dwelling in Bodhicitta brings us greater vision and potential. It brings us to boundless compassion for ourselves and others.

When we engage Bodhicitta we stop being so afraid of and controlled by our suffering. We gain new levels of patience and diligence. We also develop a kind of bravery. We are like spiritual warriors, willing to see the suffering of the world and face it in order to save ourselves and others.

There are said to be two kinds of Bodhicitta, the transcendent and the ordinary.

Bodhicitta is based on cultivating the perfection of generosity. Generosity is a kind of openness, where we aren’t holding back anything. We are fully present and completely open. We are cultivating a state of mind where we aren’t swayed so completely by the egoic mind which says “I-Me-Mine” and is always making enemies of everything. We often think of generosity as the giving of material things and this kind of generosity is more than that. With this, we develop kindness.

Bodhicitta is also based on cultivating the perfection of virtue. It’s through virtue that we develop compassion. This comes from the basic awareness that we can have a tender and gentle heart at any time. If we can just let go and stop clinging to ourselves all the time, then we can experience virtue.

Bodhicitta is largely based on free love, that is love that doesn’t expect anything in return. When we let go of our attachment to separating things into “this” and “that”, then our love becomes boundless.

Whereas point one only had one mind training slogan, point two has nine of them. I’m starting with number two, since number one was in the first point.

2. See Everything As A Dream

This kind of vision is part of the Bodhisattva path. Regard all things as unreal. We are nothing but bubbles in a stream.

We can experience this quality of voidness in our sitting practice. When we are sitting and following the breath thoughts and ideas always rise in our minds. We get distracted. We get lost and forget all about the breath. But we can reflect on the fact that we are creating these thoughts and memories. We are like slaves to the daydream. We spend our entire lives trying to grasp at things that aren’t there.

When you train in this slogan, when you repeat it to yourself, you can start to see things differently. When we start to get upset or anxious or angry about something, we can bring this slogan to mind. “Why am I upset about this? It’s a dream.”

3. Examine The Nature Of Awareness

If we really try to examine ourselves we can come to realize that there’s nothing to hold onto. Just ask yourself, “Who is reading this?” What is your awareness when you don’t think of it in relation to other things? If we look deeply within ourselves we find nothing. When Buddhists say there’s no self what they’re really saying is that there’s nothing to hold onto. There’s nothing you can point to and say “This is me.” Not if you’re honest with yourself. If we deeply examine our awareness and try to find what it is beyond what we’re aware of, then we start to realize there’s nothing underneath, at least nothing we can put a label on.

4. Don’t Attach To The Cure

The cure is just the understanding that our awareness has no root, that there’s nothing behind it. The idea of the cure that some might get stuck on is a nihilistic view. We might come to see that our awareness has no root and suddenly decide that nothing in the world matters. We have occasional glimpses of the emptiness of things, but when we attach to it we experience what’s called the poison of emptiness. The slogans prior to this one might make life have a sort of dreamy quality for us. This one is designed to keep us down to earth at the same time. The truth is that things are empty and dreamlike, but this can be another source of attachment. We have to be careful.

5. Rest In The Openness Of Your Mind

The idea of this slogan is that we can rest. We can pull our minds back from everything we are perceiving and thinking about. We can rest in simplicity and non-discursive awareness. This is meditation practice. Not meditating on something, but trying to calm the mind.

Breathe in and breathe out and just follow the breath. We are looking inside ourselves for the peace that we need.

6. After Meditation, Be A Child Of Illusion

Being a child of illusion means that our experience isn’t shaped by our preconceptions and emotional baggage all the time. When we are a child of illusion we just see things as they are, not as we project on them. I think the reason the word child is used has another connotation. It’s about keeping our sense of wonder. Stop once in a while and just look out a window. Just see whatever you see because everything is amazing.

7. Practice Sending And Taking

Tonglen is called the practice of sending and taking. It’s a sitting practice. You sit and visualize inhaling the suffering of others as a black smoke and exhaling a clear blue light. We are imagining that we are taking their suffering into ourselves and returning love and compassion. This helps us to both develop compassion for others and also to loosen our attachment to ourselves.

8. Practice With Three Objects And Three Poisons

This is an elaboration on number 7. We want to expand this tonglen practice. The three objects are three kinds of people. They are described as friends, enemies, and neutrals. The three poisons are attachment, aversion, and ignorance.

Attachment is wanting to own or control things all the time. Aversion is wanting to reject or attack things. Ignorance is when we can’t be bothered or we aren’t interested. So, the three objects inspire the three poisons in us. When one of these poisons arises in our awareness, we can do the tonglen practice. By sending and taking, we can let go of our strong feelings for these things.

9. In All Activities, Train With The Slogans

This reminds us to be as aware as we can, not just during meditation, but all the time. It’s easy to do tonglen practice on the cushion. It’s a little harder to do when we’re out in the world.

10. Begin Practicing With Yourself

This is a reminder that the tonglen practice begins with sending. Sending is often the hardest part. We are wishing for our well being to flow into others.

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.

 

Posted in buddhism, Mahayana

Great Compassion

When we come to see things as they really are, we naturally start to be more compassionate. We begin to develop what’s referred to as Great Compassion. The Bodhisattva Path is sometimes referred to as “Emptiness with a heart of compassion.” Our way of seeing the world, when we begin to understand the true nature of things, becomes rooted in compassion. Once we see things as empty, we stop making enemies out of everything all the time. This makes us feel free, like we can finally be real. We can come to experience a natural state of peacefulness and stability.

 

Posted in emptiness, Uncategorized

Emptiness

The story is that the Buddha gave the first turning of the Wheel of the Dharma, the first set of teachings, just after his Enlightenment. This teaching consisted of the Four Noble Truths.

And later there was a second turning. In the second turning the Buddha taught the Perfection of Wisdom teachings. This was a collection of numerous sutras designed to teach us about the true nature of reality, that all things are empty of inherent existent, that nothing exists apart from everything else, including us.

And later there was a third turning. The third turning was that Emptiness, far from being a nihilistic concept, can actually be explained as Buddha Nature, that we and all things are intimately and fundamentally connected.

It’s important to keep the Four Noble Truths in mind when we think about Emptiness. To truly understand Emptiness is to overcome our suffering. We can use analogies to help us think about Emptiness, but the only way we can really understand it is to experience it directly through meditation practice.

To say something is empty of inherent existence, we aren’t saying that it’s not real. We are only saying that things don’t exist independently and separately from other things. Everything is interconnected and dependent on everything else. In this way the entire universe is connected. The Buddha once described all things with the Indra’s Net analogy. This teaching is part of the foundation of the Huayan School of Buddhism, one of the precursors to Zen. He described all things as reflective gems reflecting each other in a giant net that encompasses the entire universe. In this way, all of the gems bare the reflection of all of the other gems.

Indra’s Net reminds me of a Mirror Maze I went to in Branson earlier this year. I was surrounded by mirrors. I could see myself in the mirror in from of me. But, because of the way the mirror walls and corridors were set up, I could also see myself in all of the other mirrors. My reflection was boundless and infinite.

The hope is that if we can see everything as empty of inherent existence then we can see ourselves in that way too. When we cling to this notion of a separate self, then we think of the things and people around us as “others”. It’s in this division that our suffering arises. It’s our continual conflict of self versus other. If we can drop this sense of duality and see that all things are connected, then we can overcome these negative emotions. To see yourself as one with everything is to love everything.

According to the doctrine of Emptiness any belief in a permanent reality is based on an assumption that makes no sense.

This whole teaching leads us to an understanding of another deep Buddhist teaching, Dependent Origination. That’s just the concept that things don’t exist on their own. We are all woven together in Indra’s Net and any separation that we perceive is a delusion. Our existence is connected to the existence of all other things. Looking at ourselves as separate beings who are alone is a mistake that leads to wrong views. Understanding that we are one with our environment is helpful to us.

Emptiness, in some ways, represents our potential. How many of our limitations are a result of how we perceive ourselves? If we are vast and interconnected, if we are boundless like the sky, then we aren’t held back by the ways we define ourselves. We are the universe.

 

 

Posted in tattooed buddha, Uncategorized

The Heart Sutra: A Meditation Guide

 

The Prajnaparamita Hridyam Sutra is a short text; it is about the length of a page.

But it’s a very deep text. It’s title means The Great Heart of Transcendent Wisdom Sutra, but we usually just shorten it to Heart Sutra.

It’s part of the Prajnaparamita school of texts, along with the Diamond Sutra and a few others. These are called the ‘Perfection of Wisdom’ texts and they are considered by many to be the greatest works of the Mahayana.

Prajnaparamita means Transcendent Wisdom of the Other Shore. The Prajnaparamita School presented a new goal for Buddhist practice: achieving Buddhahood, rather than simply attaining Nirvana and escaping the wheel of birth and death. This is the ideal of the Bodhisattva instead of that of the Arhat. This is enlightenment in the midst of the world, rather than escaping it. Prajna is considered the highest virtue.

Prajna teachings are based on wisdom and emptiness.

This Sutra challenges us, in our meditation practice, to face duality, profound and relative truths, impermanence and emptiness.

It’s a beloved text and can be used as a guide of advanced meditation practices. It’s considered such an important sutra that it’s chanted in Zen temples every day all over the world.

It’s a dialogue, as a lot of sutras are. In this Sutra Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion is giving teachings to a monk named Shariputra.

Here is the text (1):

The noble Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva,
while practicing the deep practice of Prajnaparamita, looked upon the five skandhas
and seeing they were empty of self-existence,
said, “Here, Shariputra,
form is emptiness, emptiness is form;
emptiness is not separate from form,
form is not separate from emptiness; whatever is form is emptiness,
whatever is emptiness is form.
The same holds for sensation and perception,
memory and consciousness.
Here, Shariputra, all dharmas are defined by emptiness not birth or destruction, purity or defilement,
completeness or deficiency.
Therefore, Shariputra, in emptiness there is no form, no sensation, no perception, no memory and no
consciousness;
no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body and no mind; no shape, no sound, no smell, no taste, no feeling
and no thought;
no element of perception, from eye to conceptual
consciousness;
no causal link, from ignorance to old age and death,
and no end of causal link, from ignorance to old age and death; no suffering, no source, no relief, no path;
no knowledge, no attainment and no non-attainment. Therefore, Shariputra, without attainment,
bodhisattvas take refuge in Prajnaparamita
and live without walls of the mind.
Without walls of the mind and thus without fears,
they see through delusions and finally nirvana.
All buddhas past, present and future
also take refuge in Prajnaparamita
and realize unexcelled, perfect enlightenment.
You should therefore know the great mantra of Prajnaparamita, the mantra of great magic,
the unexcelled mantra,
the mantra equal to the unequalled,
which heals all suffering and is true, not false,
the mantra in Prajnaparamita spoken thus:
“Gate, gate, paragate, parasangate, bodhi svaha.”

 

Just meditation on this text can blow our minds wide open.

Form is emptiness, emptiness is form

This challenges our notion of duality. Our minds like to put things into nice neat little categories that don’t often match reality. This Sutra challenges the idea that even existence and non-existence are two separate and distinct things.

No attainment and nothing to attain

Buddhist sutras remind us over and over that we’re walking the path in order to penetrate our delusion, not to attain something. Enlightenment isn’t something we gain. It’s our true nature, we just have to uncover it.

But the text also tells us that these teachings can take us to enlightenment. It tells us to “take refuge in Prajnaparamita and live without walls of the mind.” Cultivating this transcendent wisdom is a path to enlightenment.

A lot is made of that last line, which is usually left untranslated because it’s a mantra and we usually chant mantras in the original language.

“Gate, gate, paragate, parasangate, Bodhi svaha.”

“Gone, gone, gone beyond, fully gone beyond, enlightened so be it.”

Footnote

  1. Porter, Bill. The Heart Sutra: Translation and Commentary. (Berkeley, California: Counterpoint Books, 2004)

 

Posted in tattooed buddha

The Shining Void

“Lay down all thoughts,

surrender to the void.

It is shining.”

~ John Lennon

Buddhism represents overcoming suffering by understanding the true nature of things.

We are stuck in delusion and it prevents us from engaging our true selves a lot of the time. But what is the true nature of things?

Buddhism expresses it in two ways that might seem contradictory. I want to combine them and refer to it as the Shining Void.

One concept is Shunyata.

Shunyata is often translated as emptiness. This leads to some confusion. I don’t think of empty as like the number zero, I think of it as a vast and beautiful emptiness, like the sky. This is the concept that nothing in the universe has an inherent existence. That is, nothing exists on it’s own. Everything in the universe is interconnected with everything else.

Everything is dependent on everything else. Everything is just a collection of things that are influencing other things. This is especially important because it applies to us. I think of myself as this real and independent being. But am I? Or am I just part of a whole?

The other concept is Tathatagarbha.

Tathatagarbha is often translated as Buddha Nature. It’s the concept that we are one with everything; that there is a cosmic oneness to the universe. All this separation that we experience is the result of delusion. The concept of Buddha Nature indicates that we already know that we are one with everything.

We don’t always realize it but at the core of our being we are Enlightened. Our minds are clouded by delusion, so we cling to the idea of an independent self. If we can realize our interdependence then we can be happier and suffer less.

I am part of you and you are part of me—we aren’t separate. If we can think of things in this way, there is very little reason for things like envy or resentment.

So, why are there two separate concepts for this? I think we’re trying to grasp something deep and profound that is hard to understand in words.

Bodhidharma said, “The truth is beyond words and letters.”

We try to understand concepts like this, but the truth is they have to be experienced to be understood. We have to have our own spiritual insights. Our minds label things and ultimately these labels don’t really represent reality.

Sometimes when I am deep in insight meditation, I feel the truth of emptiness. Sometimes when I am deep in compassion meditation, I feel the truth of oneness.
It’s all the Shining Void.

“Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. Between these two my life turns.” ~ Nisargadatta Maharaj

 

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