Posted in 37 practices, Patheos

37 Practices of a Bodhisattva: Patheos Series

I did a series on the classic text “The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva” for Patheos. I’ve linked all of the articles here. I had a good experience delving deeply into this important text and I hope you will too.

37 Practices of A Bodhisattva: Introduction

A Bodhisattva is one who strives to attain enlightenment. Bodhisattva is a sanskrit word that means “Enlightenment Being.” It has multiple definitions: Bodhisattva: an enlightened person one who is on the path to enlightenment one who enlightens others. Mahayana Buddhism rests entirely on the Bodhisattva ideal. We have innate wakefulness—we are enlightened already—but we are also on the path to realizing the fact that we are awakened and our true nature is not separate from bringing others to awakening along… Read more

37 Practices: Keep Awareness Clear and Vivid

1
Right now, you have a good boat, fully equipped and available — hard to find.
To free others and you from the sea of samsara,
Day and night, fully alert and present,
Study, reflect, and meditate — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.… Read more

37 Practices: Going For Refuge

5
With some friends, the three poisons keep growing,
Study, reflection, and meditation weaken,
And loving kindness and compassion fall away.
Give up bad friends — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.… Read more

37 Practices: Give Rise to Awakening Mind

10
If all your mothers, who love you,
Suffer for time without beginning, how can you be happy?
To free limitless sentient beings,
Give rise to awakening mind — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.… Read more

37 Practices: Put Them Above You

37 Practices: Subdue Your Own Mind

18
When you are down and out, held in contempt,
Desperately ill, and emotionally crazed,
Don’t lose heart. Take into you
The suffering and negativity of all beings — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.… Read more

37 Practices: Let it Go

21
Sensual pleasures are like salty water:
The deeper you drink, the thirstier you become.
Any object that you attach to,
Right away, let it go — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.. Read more

37 Practices: The Perfections

Verse 25 and the ones that follow detail the 6 perfections. The most important teaching for walking the bodhisattva path is the six perfections. The six perfections free us from delusion and lead us to Awakening.  If we practice the six perfections in our lives, then we can dwell in Enlightenment… Read more

37 Practices: Don’t Say Anything

31
If you don’t go into your own confusion,
You may just be a materialist in practitioner’s clothing.
Constantly go into your own confusion
And put an end to it — this is the practice of a bodhisattva… Read more

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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 lojong

Lojong Point One: Train In The Preliminaries

POINT ONE: Train in the Preliminaries

1)Resolve to Begin

This involves everything that has led us to the path of the Bodhisattva. It’s hard to view our past as part of the path, especially when our past may have been particularly difficult. But the truth is everything that’s happened to us before now has led us to this training. In training in the preliminaries we take a good hard look at ourselves and the things that have led us to who we are and what we are doing. When we look at our lives honestly we can see all sorts of things we may not have noticed. We have to see that the path we have been on isn’t serving us or others as well as it could and we have to strive to be on a better path.

Cultivating a regular meditation practice is another way we train in the preliminaries. It’s very important to have time on the cushion and we have to always keep that in mind. Meditation is foundational and it’s importance can’t be overestimated. Meditate regularly.

It’s said that we should keep four things in mind, which are called The Four Reminders. We need to reflect on these reminders over and over. They are taken as our inspiration on the path.

These are:

  1. The preciousness and rarity of human life, being born in a time and place where we are lucky enough to study the dharma. There have been plenty of times and places throughout history (and there still are some today) where the dharma was not available at all. Today we not only have access to the dharma but also to a great wealth of teachings.
  2. The reality of death, that life is temporary and can end at any moment. Every day we are getting older and drawing closer to our end. This means we should put a great focus on what’s important to us.
  3. The power of karma, the way whatever we do puts us further in the chain of cause and effect. Everything we do has far reaching consequences.
  4. The inevitability of suffering for ourselves and  all other beings. Everyone suffers, just like we do. We need to keep that in mind when we’re dealing with others. we’re all struggling.

 

This slogan sets the tone for the whole thing. It establishes the difference between the realm of suffering, which is pain, neurosis, and egotism, and the other shore, which is openness, gentleness, and freedom. This is where we set our intention to recognize the importance of the spiritual path.

Posted in lojong

What is Lojong?

Lojong is a set of techniques for training the mind. These techniques are designed to open our hearts and awaken our minds. There are fifty nine slogans and they offer us a lot of help in transcending our egotism and putting down the baggage we are carrying.

The fifty nine slogans have been used by Tibetan Buddhists for centuries in order to help Buddhist practitioners focus on what’s important in our efforts to train and tame our minds. Sometimes on the Buddhist path we can tend to forget why we’re doing this and what’s important.

The important thing about these teachings is that they help us to meet ordinary situations in life with a Bodhisattva state of mind. Lojong really involves making our views more expansive,  cultivating a compassion that includes everyone.

These teachings have been handed down for 8 centuries. Lojong is considered a Mahayana teaching. Vajrayana Buddhism has been so influential on the Buddhism of Tibet that Mahayana teachings sometimes get overlooked. As a practitioner of Mahayana Buddhism, I love delving into teachings like these.

Lojong practice helps me to transform all of the aspects of my life into the path of Enlightenment. It reminds me that there is no separation between the sacred life and ordinary life, between the spiritual and the worldly. It helps me to be less pulled around by my egotism. When we practice lojong even really difficult circumstances can become more workable.

Lojong practice is one of my teachers.

The Lojong slogans are said to come from the great Indian Buddhist teacher Atisha, who received extensive training in bodhicitta and mind training. A Tibetan student of Atisha’s founded the Kadam lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. Now Lojong practice is found in all of the major branches of Tibetan Buddhism.

Lojong is a list of 59 slogans that summarize the view and application of Mahayana Buddhism. They provide a way to train our minds through both meditation practice and daily life. The foundation,  as with most Buddhist teachings, is on developing mindfulness and awareness.

With this practice we become more aware of how self-centered our worldview is. We practice to reverse that and have a broader vision, a vision of gentleness and fearless compassion. This way we begin to think of ourselves as part of the world, rather than making enemies of everything all the time. We want to prevent our actions and motivations from being quite so motivated by projections and expectations.

Our practice in ordinary life is based on learning these slogans and being able to remember them when we need them. If we study them diligently, we will find them coming into our minds when we need them.

Lojong teachings can inspire us to live with more gentleness and compassion. They inspire us to transcend the self.

Lojong practice can serve as our basic training on the path of the Bodhisattva.

The Lojong slogans are divided into seven categories. I’ve written about each one as a series here:

Train in the Preliminaries

Training in Bodhicitta

Bad Circumstances are the Path

Make Practice Your Life

Evaluation

Disciplines

Guidelines

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Posted in bodhisattva

The Bodhisattva

The Bodhisattva is willing to be authentic, willing to get hurt and be sensitive and have a fully exposed heart. A Bodhisattva cooperates with the world instead of making enemies with everything all the time. Bodhisattvas are sometimes called spiritual warriors, described as daring and fearless. On the Bodhisattva path you have to let go of the lies that you tell yourself all the time. You have to put all of your egocentric bullshit aside and face things as they really are. That’s why it’s fearless. When we put that aside we are free to be more genuine and authentic. This path isn’t so much about manifesting Enlightenment as it is about expanding our openness, gentleness, and compassion. But, I suppose when you get down to it that, in itself, is Enlightenment.

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, 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 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.