Posted in buddhism

Practice, Study, and Wisdom

Several things are important in our Buddhist journey.

It’s through practice that we’re able to lessen our neurotic thought patterns, all that baggage we’re carrying around with us, the preconceived ideas that shape the way we see reality.

It’s through study that we come to understand things. That understanding leads to a more awakened and peaceful state of mind.

We learn how to be in our lives, how to move through the world, through practice. We learn how to understand things, how to see the world and our place in it, through study.

Buddhist training should consist of both practice and study.

Our meditation practice isn’t just sitting practice, it’s connected with how we learn the teachings of the Buddha. It’s our practice that allows us to study the dharma and overcome our delusions and suffering.

Through practice we are cultivating transcendental wisdom. This is the discriminating awareness that allows us to see through duality and see things as they really are.

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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.

 

Posted in bodhisattva

Bodhisattva Road

The Bodhisattva’s Journey

Mahayana Buddhism is sometimes called the Great Vehicle. It’s also called the Bodhisattva Path. Bodhisattva means Enlightenment Being or Awakened Being.

The path that I advocate, the path that I teach about, is the Bodhisattva Path. It’s a powerful and difficult journey. The ideal of the Bodhisattva is what we are trying to live up to.

The Bodhisattva Path is founded on the idea of Buddha Nature. The idea of Buddha Nature is that it’s not “out there” as something we have to go get or some state we have to attain. It’s here and now already. We have some delusions we’re carrying that stop us from realizing it, but it’s always here beneath all the baggage we are carrying. This whole idea turns some of the other ways of looking at Buddhism around. There was a time when most Buddhists thought that Enlightenment was some sacred state we were trying to get to, something in the future, not something that is with us already. Not something you can attain in some future life, if you’re both very virtuous and very lucky. It’s something that’s here with you already, something that you can see and experience right now, in this very life.

What’s the importance of the idea of Buddha nature? To me it points to one thing, above all else. Potential. If we all have Buddha Nature then we all have potential, we all have the seed within us to awaken to our true nature. If we all have that, then there’s no reason to think we can’t attain what the Buddha attained. There’s no reason to think “I’m not good enough” or “I’m not wise enough.” The Bodhisattva’s Journey is something that you can do.

The Bodhisattva’s Journey begins with discovering the heart of awakening. This means the sincere desire to help others. Generally we say it’s about helping others with their journey on the path too, but there are all sorts of ways we can help others.

To me the Bodhisattva’s Journey is reflected in paramita practice, cultivating the six perfections. The cultivation of generosity, virtue, patience, diligence, concentration, and transcendent wisdom is the fundamental action of the Bodhisattva. Cultivating these six things is what brings us to the other shore, from the world of suffering to the world of Enlightenment. That said, we aren’t cultivating these things with Enlightenment or some other goal in mind. We’re really cultivating them because we know that is the best way to live our lives, to walk in the footsteps of the great teachers and masters. We don’t engage paramita practice to attain Enlightenment. We engage paramita practice to engage paramita practice.

Paramita means going beyond. We’re engaging this practice to go beyond the ocean of suffering that we are stuck in, and to help others go beyond it too. It means crossing through the barrier of greed, hatred, and delusion that keeps us from seeing our true nature, our Buddha Nature that is fundamentally good and one with everything around us. Paramita practice is really based on non-duality, getting us to dwell in a place where we realize that we aren’t separate from the world around us, that we don’t have a self in the way we traditionally think of a self. The things guiding us on this journey are our innate senses of wisdom and compassion.

Paramita practice is the way to be a Bodhisattva. As Bodhisattvas we want to walk this journey of helping others to awakening, to challenge the idea that we are separate from the world around us, and to overcome suffering and dwell in Enlightenment.

The first paramita is Generosity. This is in the sense not only of giving, but also of opening ourselves up, of being open with the world around us. It represents not only giving but also not being attached to gain. In the modern world we often think about attaining more and more things. I had a Garfield poster on my wall as a kid that said “he who has the most toys wins.” That kind of attitude is the opposite of Generosity. In Mahayana Buddhism our goal is to be generous, to give, without expectation of some reward. We don’t give to build a good reputation or to generate good karma. We want to cultivate a Generosity that is free of attachment to outcomes or gain. Being generous helps us deal with our great attachment to things.

The second paramita is Virtue. This immediately brings to mind ideas about right and wrong. I don’t think that’s the best way to think about the paramita of Virtue. Virtue is based on being aware of the world around us. When we are aware of the world around us, this can help us to appreciate things and to have proper conduct. This kind of Virtue does mean that we grind our teeth and avoid taking pleasure in things. Rather, it means that we take pleasure mindfully, that we not be carried away by our attachments. Once we begin to notice and manage our lack of discipline, we can being to see that underneath that we are basically good. It’s Virtue that helps us to realize that we have so much to offer.

The third paramita is Patience. Sometimes this is called Forbearance. That might be a better word for it, but I think it’s a word that a lot of people just don’t know. This is essentially equanimity, our ability to weather life’s troubles. It’s the cultivation of our antidote to aggression. It’s our ability to manage our annoyance when we’re stuck in traffic, or when our kids won’t stop shouting, or whatever else comes up. Patience means not flying off the handle and not letting little things ruin our day. Or ruin the day of those around us. How many times do we react badly because something put us in a bad mood? Too often.

The fourth paramita is Diligence. Essentially it means that we’re trying really hard. Some say it’s the most important of the paramitas because if our practice is casual it might not go very far. It means not giving up when things get hard. There are plenty of obstacles on the path and it’s only our diligence that keeps us going. It’s also about having a sense of delight on the path. By that I mean getting excited about the journey. It shouldn’t be a chore to practice. We are walking the path of awakening to become Enlightened, serene and free of suffering. This is something to be excited about.

The fifth paramita is Concentration. This is our mindfulness, our ability to stabilize our minds and manage our thought processes. This is where we cultivate stillness and attention. This consists of watching our thoughts as they enter our minds and cultivating an understanding of how our minds work. This is where we tame our minds from the relentless deluge of distractions and preconceptions that continuously assail us. Generally when people are practicing meditation, cultivating the paramita of Concentration is what they’re doing.

The sixth paramita is Transcendent Wisdom. This is described as the wisdom that cuts through ignorance. This is really where things get deep and serious. It’s in cultivating Transcendent Wisdom that we practice dwelling in our true nature. This is where we can step beyond the delusion of duality and dedicate ourselves truly to compassion. Our understanding of deep Buddhist concepts like Emptiness and Buddha Nature comes from our cultivation of the sixth paramita. This is where we are overcoming our delusions. This is engaged through deeper meditation styles, often on retreat, and a deep study of Buddhist texts. When we dwell in our true nature, we bring a little bit of it back with us every time.

These six perfections are fundamental to the Mahayana Buddhist Path, the Way of the Bodhisattva. Engaging them is a way to catch a glimpse of our true nature and to attain Enlightenment. Mahayana Buddhism is called the Great Vehicle because it was designed to be a path that many people can practice, instead of a select few.

You can take the Bodhisattva’s journey yourself. Take it with me.

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Posted in buddhism

The Power of the Dharma

Power in the Dharma

Practicing the dharma is powerful and it can bring us great benefit. When we are practicing we are engaging in a different way of thinking and seeing the world. I don’t mean to say that we are seeing the world in a magical or supernatural way. We are seeing the world in  a way that’s beyond delusion.

We are engaging the truth, reality as it really is. When we tune in to the dharma, we are entering the stream. The stream represents the Buddha and all of the other people on the path who have come before us, the scholars, masters, noble ones, and renegades who have made the dharma what it is. Getting in touch with the dharma is getting in touch with the real flow of things, reality as it is. Our practice is our way of tuning in to reality as it is. It’s special because the dharma changes us.

In our practice we are working on our minds. We are turning our focus inward to try to deal with fundamental problems that exist in our minds. We want to understand our minds and how they work. This is the power of the dharma. We are capable of discriminating awareness.

In our normal awareness we experience duality, both attachment and aversion. When we engage in our meditation practice our minds become harmonious. Meditation is how we free ourselves from delusion. We see through delusion and we see another way of looking at the world. Our minds can uncover this world of nonduality.

This is the power of dharma practice.

 

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Flashes of Experience

The Tibetan Master Jamgon Kongtrul described various experiences that can come up during our meditation practice. These are temporary experiences that come up sometimes and we can see them as sort of a roadmap for our awakening. If we’re having experiences that are confusing to us, we can look at his list and see if they match.

They are called nyams, which means flashes of experience. Nyams can be experienced both in sitting and in daily life, if we have a regular practice on the cushion and we’re mindful off the cushion. We want to notice these experiences but not really attach to them. They are temporary, but they can be used to keep us in the present. There are 5 nyam and 3 advanced nyam.

They’re described through metaphor. I’m going to list them now.

  1. Brook on a Steep Hill: This is where our thoughts are very fast and busy. Our thoughts are said to be like water flowing downhill. It’s difficult to stop them or even slow them down.
  2. Turbulent River: Our minds are even more chaotic. Thoughts come like a river going through a rocky area, like whitewater rafting. Total chaos. Lots of thoughts that we can’t even begin to manage.
  3. Slow River: Thoughts become calm and familiar, smooth and slow. This is where we start to settle down. Sometimes we have to sit for a long time to get to this point in our sitting because our minds are so frantic.
  4. Ocean Without Waves: This is a space of absolute stillness, when we’re absorbed in our meditation. This is the point where a lot of people lose track of time in their meditation practice. Suddenly the timer goes off and you can’t believe it’s been 30 minutes.
  5. Candle Undisturbed by the Wind: This is a complete stillness. For a moment self and other drop away. There is no meditator, but just the act of meditation.

And the advanced nyam. These are often only experienced on retreat, or at least in longer sitting periods.

6. Bliss: This is when we feel refreshed. We have a sense of well being. There might be tingling sensations and flashes of joy. Sometimes this nyam makes us feel inspired to go create something.

7. Luminosity: We gain a sense of clarity and a feeling of interconnectedness. Separation between ourselves and the world around us drops away. We have a panoramic vision that is beyond duality.

8. Nonthought: No thoughts arrive. There is a stillness and silence. Not only has the individual separation disappeared, the entire universe has disappeared and we are dwelling in the void. This is an experience that many people find terrifying. An intuitive understanding of Emptiness.


These states can and do come up for many of us. All  we can do is notice them and not cling to them. Sometimes people have those 6th or 7th nyam experiences and think they’ve attained Enlightenment. Weird experiences do come up if you practice for a long time. That’s part of the reason it’s important to have a teacher and/or spiritual community, to keep us from getting carried away.

Posted in buddhism, zen

Why Zen?

I’m not interested in worshipping the Buddha or Bodhisattvas. I’m not even really all that interested in revering them.

When the Buddha attained awakening under the Bodhi tree he said, “I and all beings have attained Enlightenment.”
I want to actualize that statement. Zen isn’t about bowing to statues, it’s about bowing to our true nature.

I don’t want to follow the Buddha or anyone else. I seek what the Enlightened ones sought. Zen is about dwelling in this moment, rising above or stepping away from the delusions that are a constant part of our lives.

Bodhidharma, the man who brought Zen to China, said it was:
A special transmission outside the scriptures;

No dependence on words and letters;

Direct pointing to the mind;

Seeing into one’s nature and attaining Buddhahood.

Zen is not an intellectual study. It’s not something we learn about. It’s something we do, a direct pointing to our true nature. It’s just the practice of stopping our minds and seeing reality as it is.

Zen is an exploration into our true nature. For those of us that practice it involves stepping out of our thoughts and the labels we try to put on reality. It involves introspection and contemplation, going to the place where we are able to slow down our chaotic minds enough to explore the inner self.
In time, seeing our true nature can come naturally.

I can’t really tell you. I can only show you.

Come sit with me and see what it’s all about.

 

Posted in meditation, Uncategorized

Simplicity in Shamatha

Shamatha is a simple meditation style. The point is to free ourselves from delusion. We dwell in delusion all the time, but as long as we understand that and cultivate discipline, shamatha can help us transform ourselves. It’s about being here now. When we aren’t fully present we make all sorts of mistakes.

Shamatha is based on stabilizing our body, speech and mind. We want to have mindfulness of physical experience, mindfulness of emotions, and mindfulness of discursive thoughts.

To free ourselves from delusion we practice. We sit and meditate. Through meditation we develop a state of awareness, both when we’re meditating and off the cushion in daily life. In shamatha we let go. We pay attention to the things that arise and we simply let them go.

In shamatha we are just dwelling in mindfulness. We are engaging in one pointed awareness. Mindfulness manifests in us in a sense that we are actually present in what we’re doing. We train our minds to just pass through, instead of attaching to them.

Our development of awareness is based on our mindfulness practice. We strive to be present, just being, just here. Shamatha is the point at which we behave like a Buddha. It is simple and doable. Being here without preconceptions or discursive thoughts or daydreams is possible. Mindfulness isn’t really religious or even spiritual, it’s just being here. As you go it becomes more natural.

Meditation is about experiencing reality in being as real as possible in our own existence. We train our minds to experience reality directly. By practicing meditation we are following the Buddha’s example and going through what he went through. It’s important to remember that he was a regular person like us, not a god or a spirit.

SIMPLE SHAMATHA INSTRUCTIONS

Set a timer. You want to set a time for your sit, rather than just sit until you feel like getting up.

Sit and arrange yourself. Posture is important. Your head and shoulders need to be straight and uplifted. Keep your back straight and never slouch. When we slouch we start to lose our awareness. Upright sitting helps our back be free of strain and helps us avoid sleepiness. Sit with your legs either in the half lotus or just the cross-legged position. Relax your eyes. Don’t focus on anything.

Put your hands in either the cosmic mudra or the relaxing mind mudra. The cosmic mudra consists of placing on hand on top of the other, face up. Gently touch your thumbs together, making a circle. The relaxing mind mudra consists of simply resting your hands on your knees.

Feel the cushion beneath you and make yourself as comfortable as possible.  Feel yourself breathing. Keep your mouth slightly open, so you’re breathing through both your nose and your mouth.

Feel the breath coming into and going out of your body. As we pay attention to the in breath and the out breath, we can feel our awareness expand. Every time a stray thought or distraction comes into your mind, bring your attention back to your breathing. Simply bring your attention back to your sensation of breathing every time a thought comes into your mind.

Just be here.


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Posted in Mahayana, Uncategorized

The Six Perfections

The six perfections are: generosity, virtue, patience, diligence, concentration, and wisdom.

 

The Perfection of Generosity

The perfection of generosity represents more than just giving material things. Obviously, it does represent giving money or items to the needy. It also represents giving your time, things like helping a friend move or spending time comforting someone who is suffering from a loss.

We can also give someone less tangible things, like our love, respect, or patience. We can offer stability, being reliable. If we make plans with someone and keep those plans, we are giving them stability. We can give someone space when they want to be alone, or quiet when they are being bothered by too much noise.

The practice of generosity is beneficial to us. It increases our confidence and self-esteem. It also helps lessen our attachments. If we give material things, it helps us lessen our attachment to material things. Cultivating generosity is helpful in developing love, joy, and compassion.

 

The Perfection of Virtue

This perfection represents ethical behavior, morality, self-discipline, integrity, and nonviolence. The essence of this perfection is that through our love and compassion we do not harm others. We are devoted to being virtuous in our thoughts, speech, and actions. This practice of ethical conduct is an important aspect of our path.

We abstain from killing, stealing, lying, divisive speech, harsh speech, gossip, and greed. We follow this path so that we can enjoy greater freedom, happiness, and security in our lives, because through our virtuous behavior we are no longer creating suffering for ourselves and others. We must realize that unethical behavior is always the cause of suffering and unhappiness. Practicing the perfection of virtue, we are free of negativity, we cause no harm to others by our actions, our speech is kind and compassionate, and our thoughts are free of anger.

When our commitment is strong in the perfection of virtue we naturally become more positive.

 

The Perfection of Patience

This perfection is the enlightened quality of patience, tolerance, forbearance, and acceptance. The essence of this perfection of patience is the strength of mind and heart that enables us to face the challenges and difficulties of life without losing our composure and inner tranquility. We embrace and forbear adversity, insult, distress, and the wrongs of others with patience and tolerance, free of resentment, irritation, emotional reactivity, or retaliation.

We cultivate the ability to be loving and compassionate in the face of criticism, misunderstanding, or aggression.

The ability to endure, to have forbearance, is an important part of the path. In practicing this perfection of patience and forbearance, we never give up on or abandon others—we help them cross over the sea of suffering. We maintain our inner peace, calmness, and equanimity under all circumstances, having enduring patience and tolerance for ourselves and others.

With the strength of patience, we maintain our effort and enthusiasm in our Dharma practice.

 

The Perfection of Diligence

The fourth perfection is diligence. It involves continuing to persevere when the path is difficult. It includes right effort, enthusiasm, and the energy needed to overcome unwholesome thoughts and attitudes as well as the cultivation of positive virtues, study of Dharma and the choice of right actions.

Diligence requires eagerness and sharp interest in the path. It requires active bodily or mental strength to improve our personality for individual enlightenment and supreme Buddhahood for the sake of all sentient beings. We need the energy of diligence to stay on the path.

When we are on the right path, we will be diligent in studying ourselves, in seeing the true reality, and in having the sustained energy needed to attain Buddhahood. Through diligence we can generate great compassion to help others and ourselves.

 

The Perfection of Concentration

This perfection represents concentration, meditation, contemplation, and mental stability. Our minds have the tendency to be very distracted and restless, always moving from one thought or feeling to another. This can cause us to be heavily attached to our thoughts and emotions. The perfection of concentration means training our mind so that it does what we want it to. We stabilize our mind and emotions by striving to be mindful and aware in everything we do. When we train our minds in this way we achieve focus, composure, and tranquility.

Concentration allows the deep insight needed to challenge our delusions and attachments that cause confusion and suffering. This development of concentration requires diligence. In addition, when there is no practice of meditation and concentration, we cannot achieve the other perfections, because their essence, which is the inner awareness that comes from meditation, is lacking.

To attain wisdom, compassion, and enlightenment, it is essential that we develop the mind through concentration, meditation, and mindfulness.

 

The Perfection of Wisdom

This perfection is the enlightened quality of transcendental wisdom, insight, and the perfection of understanding. The essence of this perfection is the supreme wisdom, the highest understanding that living beings can attain, beyond words and completely free from the limitation of mere ideas, concepts, or intellectual knowledge.

The Perfection of Wisdom is the supreme wisdom that knows emptiness and the interconnectedness of all things.

The Perfection of Wisdom is a result of contemplation, meditation, and rightly understanding the nature of reality. The sixth paramita is what truly ties the other five together and is often considered the most important.

In a way, the Perfection of Wisdom is the sum of the other five perfections. If one is able cultivate generosity, patience, virtue, diligence, and concentration, this will naturally lead to the cultivation of wisdom. Wisdom represents an awareness of the truth of our nature. It is our intuition, our innate understanding that everything is interconnected, that we are one with everything. Just as a wave in the ocean is never really separate from the water although for a time it appears to be, so are we.

We are all waves and the universe is our ocean. When we act in accordance with this fact, then we are dwelling in nirvana. Recognizing our interconnectedness is unleashing our Buddha Nature. We have this wisdom already, we just have to clear away the delusion and unleash it.

 

 

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Posted in buddhism, Uncategorized

The Three Yanas

These are the three Yanas, or the three great sects, of Buddhism.

If we’re going to compare the three yanas to western religion, I think the appropriate thing is to liken them to the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Although they have essentially the same foundation, those religions have some big differences. Buddhism is the same way. And just like those religions, Buddhism has many many subsects within the three yanas. We can’t suggest that these yanas are 100% separate, as each of them does penetrate the others a little. Vajrayana especially has lots of elements of the other two yanas within it. All three of these yanas have come to the west.

Hinayana is called “the path of the worthy ones”. It’s the oldest of the three yanas. It’s said that there were 18 hinayana sects and only one, Theravada (the way of the elders) has survived into the modern era. Hinayana is pragmatic and deep-rooted. It’s emphasis is on the core Buddhist teachings: the nature of the mind, meditation, suffering, impermanence, egolessness, personal development. It’s based on training in mindfulness, awareness, cultivating virtue and equanimity. It’s foundation is the refuge vow. Theravada Buddhism is mainly practiced in  Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.

Mahayana is called “the path of the awakened beings”. It’s the biggest of the three yanas and there are numerous sects within the Mahayana, to name a few: zen, pure land, tendai, nichiren, and many many others. It’s founded upon the premise of combining wisdom and compassionate action. It’s about serving and saving others. In the Mahayana we cultivate wisdom through the view of emptiness. We practice lojong (mind training) based on cultivating the six perfections; generosity, virtue, patience, diligence, concentration, and wisdom. It’s foundation is the bodhisattva vow. It’s mainly found in China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Vajrayana is called “the path of fearless engagement”. It’s by far the smallest of the three yanas, but it’s well known because of figures like the Dalai Lama and Chogyam Trungpa. It’s based on devotion to one’s teacher, spiritual empowerment rituals, visualization meditations, and devotional practices that are almost like prayer. It’s considered a whole hearted practice, one you engage in with all of your energy. It’s foundation is samaya vows, vows of devotion to one’s teacher. Vajrayana Buddhism is mainly practiced by Tibetans (many of whom don’t live in Tibet) but there are also some Vajrayana branches from Japan that still exist.

 

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Posted in tattooed buddha, zen

The Flower and the Smile

It’s said that the lineage that we call Zen started in a place called Vulture Peak.

It’s said that it started when the Buddha was silent, in the space between words—it was the teaching of no-teaching. His students asked for a teaching, as they did many times. Instead of speaking, as they expected, he just raised a flower. It was a white lotus and he just held it up and showed it to everyone.
The symbol of the Zen tradition is the Enso, an empty circle drawn with a brushstroke. I humbly suggest that the symbol should be a flower instead.

All of the assembled students were just confused and disappointed, as we can imagine we would be, except for one. His name was Mahakasyapa.
Mahakasyapa smiled.

The point is usually said to be that the dharma isn’t something you hear or read. It’s experiencing this moment as it is, purely and directly. Everyone else was waiting for some great philosophical teaching. Mahakasyapa just sat there and experienced the Buddha raising a flower. At this point, the Buddha declared that Mahakasyapa was his chosen successor, that he had attained enlightenment just as the Buddha himself had.
Mahakasyapa was an important historical figure. He convened the first council after the Buddha’s death, where everyone got together to recite and share the Buddha’s teachings that they had memorized. In Theravada temples he’s sometimes depicted in art hanging around with Ananda, the Buddha’s cousin and attendant.

Is this story true?

If it is then the Zen lineage passed through 27 teachers without anyone really talking about it, until Bodhidharma took the lineage to China and replanted it, where it then changed a little to become more like the nature religions of Taoism and Confucianism (as Buddhism often does when it enters new cultures).

Here’s an explanation that I think is more likely:
There were Buddhists who traveled to China to spread the teachings of the Lankavatara Sutra. In those days that was really how different groups of Buddhists defined themselves. They didn’t have rigid lineages like the ones that exist now. It’s said that the Lankavatara Sutra is the one that Bodhidharma brought with him.
Once these Buddhists arrived they encountered resistance.

They learned from the Buddhist sects that had already formed in China: Huayan, Tiantai and Pure Land. In these sects different things became emphasized to make the teachings more acceptable to Chinese culture. A history was created to embody authenticity—not fabrication, mythmaking. Fabrication implies negative or selfish intent.
We might view mythmaking as lying in the modern world, but only if we don’t realize that expecting stories to be literally true is a new idea. Things can be meaningful by being true in a non-literal sense and that’s how things have been throughout much of human history.
It could be argued that the Zen tradition formed in response to those other forms, as an effort to create a Chinese form of Buddhism that was more in line with the Buddha’s original teaching. Pure Land, with it’s chanting and wishing for rebirth in heaven, and Tiantai, with it’s focus on secret and mysterious teachings, seem very different from the Buddha’s three simple trainings. Huayan is the closest, and it’s easy to see how much it influenced the Zen tradition. Huayan, inspired by the Avatamsaka Sutra, is known for being a little more philosophical, mystical, and positive than Zen. Zen is known for being more down to earth. I think those lines are very blurry. If you look for philosophical and hard to understand Zen teachings you can definitely find them.
Zen lineages can be strict and sometimes I wonder if I’d like Huayan more. I would have certainly loved to study with a Huayan teacher if the lineage hadn’t already died out.
I think the Zen tradition formed the same way that other religions always seem to, not from one guy looking at a flower. Rather, I think it formed from a slow process of accumulating teachings and being influenced by the other forms of spirituality that were around.
Plenty of people will tell you they think the flower and smile story literally happened. I don’t think so, but I think it doesn’t matter.