Posted in ch'an, zen

Zen and Zen Stories

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

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

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

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

 

Anyway,

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a story.

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

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

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

So, still everyone was standing around awkwardly.

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

 

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

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

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

The point is it tells us something.

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

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

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

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

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Posted in lojong

Lojong Point 6: Disciplines of Mind Training

This group of slogans is connected with the perfection of wisdom, prajnaparamita. They are connected with sharpening our awareness to help us work with ourselves. Wisdom cuts through ignorance. We are cultivating a sense of awareness and mindfulness that will develop us on the bodhisattva path. It’s our sense of wisdom that allows us to carry these slogans through our lives. As we go forward with the slogans, you’ll notice they are increasingly more straightforward. The first 22 provided a solid foundation for us.

23. Always Abide By The Three Basic Principles

These are the three basic principles:

Keep the two vows: this refers to refuge and bodhisattva vows, keeping them completely.

Refrain from outrageous action: this means we aren’t using our practice as a means to gain attention. We aren’t trying to be martyrs here. We are just trying to be.

Develop patience: don’t be in a hurry to become something. People have a tendency to learn teachings like these and to want to become great saints or sages. We are just trying to be.

24. Change Your Attitude

The point of this slogan is to change our point of view. We want to change our attitude so that we focus on others before ourselves. This refers to our attempts to control others and to always cherish ourselves first. We want to tame our minds so we aren’t pushing people around all the time.

25. Don’t Talk About Injured Limbs

Injured limbs refers to someone else’s physical or psychological defects. It’s simply the realization that we don’t have a reason to point out the faults of others. We’re all human and we all have flaws.

26. Don’t Ponder Others

This is connected to number 25. Pondering others means picking on their shortcomings after they wrong us. We can obsess about it when someone does something wrong, or we can get on with our lives.

27. Work With The Greatest Defilements First

The defilements are the obstacles to our growth that are within us. Whatever our greatest defilement is would be the one we want to work on the most. Our greatest defilement could be anger, attachment, pride, jealousy, etc. Working with the greatest defilements means working with the most important problems that we have. The idea is that we are doing whatever work is hardest first, rather than avoiding our most difficult issues thinking we will deal with them later.

28. Abandon Any Hope Of Fruition

We don’t want to think of our lojong practice as goal oriented. Forget about the possibility of transforming yourself to the best person in the world because of your training. We aren’t practicing so that we can become masters and get some kind of fame and adoration. We are practicing just to practice.

29. Abandon Poisonous Food

If we are practicing as another way to feed our ego, giving up your ego to build your ego, then it’s like we are eating poisonous food. Thinking that you’re doing this so you can become the best meditator ever is a mistake. If the practice is motivated by a wish for personal achievement, then we are thinking of things in the wrong way.

30. Don’t Be So Predictable

The point of this slogan is to give up our history and the way we perceive ourselves. If I think of myself as someone with anger problems, then we something goes wrong I will probably react in anger. In this slogan we are trying to put that down. We are trying to not be so predictable all the time.

31. Don’t Malign Others

Saying bad things about others is often rooted in showing how great we are. We sometimes tend to think our virtues can only show if we tear others down.

32. Don’t Wait In Ambush

This means we don’t want to wait for someone to fall down so we can attack them. We don’t want to be opportunistic and attack others when they are most vulnerable. That would be a very negative action.

33. Don’t Bring Things To A Painful Point

Don’t blame all your problems and suffering on others. This slogan means that we should encourage others on the path, rather than humiliating them by placing blame.

34. Don’t Transfer The Ox’s Load To The Cow

This means don’t unload on everyone all the time. Transferring the load means not wanting to deal with anything on our own. We want to think about our problems honestly. We want to deal with our issues because no one else really can.

35. Don’t Try To Be The Fastest

We don’t want to view our practice as a race. That can happen sometimes. If we view our practice in that way, then it becomes a sort of game or competition. Don’t be in a hurry. Just be.

36. Don’t Act With A Twist

This is about dropping the attitude that we are going to get personal gain from the practice. Acting with a twist means volunteering for the worst in each situation with the knowledge that it makes you look the best. We need to strive to practice without having an ulterior motive.

37. Don’t Make Gods Into Demons

This refers to our tendency to dwell on the negative and go through life unhappy. Making gods into demons is turning the path into a burden, into something to complain about.

38. Don’t Seek Others’ Pain As Your Happiness

We shouldn’t build our happiness on the failures of others. We don’t want to hope for others to experience misfortune. It might come up that we benefit from the misfortune of someone else, but we don’t want to wish for that. A striking example is wishing for someone to die so that we can receive an inheritance. Everyone will agree that this is not okay, I’m sure. But we can apply this to all sorts of wishes we might have.

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

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 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 Patheos, Uncategorized

Lotus

The Lotus flower is a beautiful plant. It lives in the water. It often comes out of water that’s muddy and unclean. But with great beauty, it blooms.

This is a common symbol in Buddhism. You can see it all over the place in Buddhist art. It’s really common for images of Bodhisattvas to be seen sitting on giant lotus flowers, and maybe holding small ones too.

One of the most well known mantras “OM MANI PADME HUM” means “the jewel in the lotus.” Chanting this mantra is declaring our own intent to attain Enlightenment.

Different colored lotus flowers are said to have different meanings in Buddhist symbolism. The blue lotus represents Prajnaparamita, the perfection of wisdom. The gold lotus represents the spiritual Enlightenment of all awakened beings. The pink lotus represents the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. The red lotus represents Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion and it’s said to represent our pure true nature. The white lotus represent purity, a state in which we aren’t afflicted by the three poisons: greed, hatred, and delusion. The purple lotus represents the mystical path.

There’s an additional layer of meaning. A lotus that is fully open represents full and complete Enlightenment. A lotus that’s closed represents the earliest stages on the path.

The lotus is significant because it’s beautiful and pure. But it came out of muddy water. Out of impurity comes purity.

We are the same. We come out of our messy human lives. We exist in a great deal of suffering, like the muddy water. Many of us have had horrendous circumstances in our lives. People we care about die. We struggle in daily life. And most of us have made decisions that are absolutely awful. (I know I have). We are mired in delusion and this is like the muddy water.

But, like the lotus, we can rise above it.

When we rise above the suffering of our lives, when we let go of the attachments that don’t serve us well, when we overcome the preconceptions that are harmful to our well being, we are rising out of the water. When we purify our minds, we are rising from the muddy water, beautiful and pure. And as we travel on the spiritual journey, our lotus blooms.

This is our spiritual journey. To come out of this delusion and bloom as pure and Enlightened beings is the essence of the Bodhisattva’s journey. We exist in the muddy water of suffering, but we are rising above the suffering in transforming ourselves. The lotus reminds us that even in the worst, most stained and deluded circumstances we can rise above things. We can transform ourselves.

But the truth is the lotus was pure the whole time, even before it bloomed, even before it rose above the water. It’s nature didn’t change. It’s purity simply emerged. We are the same way. Our Buddha nature is our true nature. Our Enlightenment is right here right now. We just have to emerge and bloom.

 

Lotus

Posted in rime center

Teaching the Diamond Sutra

In one week I’m going to start teaching the Diamond Sutra. It’s a six week class that will occur Wednesdays nights at the Rime Center from 7:45pm until 9:00pm. It starts on April 13th. You should come if you can. (a link to register for this class is posted at the bottom)

I’m so nervous and excited.

It all started a few months ago. Lama Matt told me he wanted me to start teaching classes at the Rime Center. What a wonderful opportunity. But, of course I wondered if I could handle it. (being the center of attention is really not my thing). Of course I said yes but it was big surprise.

He gave me a title, “Gegan” which means teacher. And he told me that I could teach anything I wanted.

I told him I would like to teach the Diamond Sutra.

The Diamond Sutra is probably my favorite Buddhist text. But it’s also a really hard text to teach. It’s a heavy text with a lot of wisdom for us to explore. If I had spent time thinking about it, I might have chosen something a little easier for my first class. But, It will be fine, I think. It does mean something that it’s a text that I love.

I spent time looking at different translations and Lama Matt did too. We agreed that the Thich Nhat Hanh translation was probably the most accessible.

So, I went to work. I took notes on every chapter and got myself prepared.

In preparing to teach this sutra I’ve learned more about it than I ever knew. And I’ve learned about myself. Maybe the best teachers are always students too. I love this sutra now more than ever and I hope that my students gain something approaching the same appreciation that I have for it.

The Diamond Sutra has changed my life. It can change yours too.

The Buddha doesn’t transform us. He invites us to transform ourselves. This sutra doesn’t give us anything, it cuts things away. The diamond cuts through our delusion and leaves only what’s real. When we put down all that we’re carrying, we discover emptiness, our true nature.

The Diamond Sutra describes the very foundation of the awakened life.

http://www.rimecenter.org/?p=628

Posted in bodhisattva, Mahayana, Uncategorized

The Six Paramitas

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. This is, above all else, the path to awakening that I really connect with. If we practice the six perfections in our lives, then we can dwell in Enlightenment. This is, to me, the central point of Buddhism.
The six paramitas (usually translated as perfections) are a teaching of Mahayana Buddhism. They are said to be vehicles to take us from shore of sorrow to the shore of peace and joy. We are on the shore of suffering, anger, and depression and we want to cross over to the shore of well-being and transcendence. Practicing the Six Paramitas is said to help us unleash the joy within.
This six paramitas are: Generosity, Virtue, Patience, Diligence, Concentration, and Wisdom.

The Paramita of Generosity
People tend to think that this means just giving material things and that isn’t necessarily the case.
We can give all sorts of things. We can give our time, our patience, our love.
The best gift we can offer is our presence. To be there when someone needs us, to listen when someone needs to talk. When we give our presence to someone that wants it, we are practicing the perfection of generosity.
Because of our meditation practice, we can be more mindfully present. Listening instead of waiting to talk, paying attention when attention is needed.
We can also give stability. When our thoughts and feelings are unstable, we can cause all sorts of harm and unhappiness to ourselves and others.
We can also give peace. When we are peaceful and have a peaceful relationship to the world around us, it brings benefit to everyone.
We can also give space. Staying away when someone wants time alone is a form of giving.
We can also give understanding. When we pay attention to what others are going through we can better understand how to interact with them in ways that are helpful.
Generosity is a wonderful practice. The Buddha said when we are angry at someone we can practice generosity toward them as a way to soften our anger.

The Paramita of Virtue
The Second Paramita is something we cultivate in two ways.
One way is through mindfulness training and the second way is through precepts. I’m going to write about the five mindfulness trainings now and save the precepts for another time.
Practicing the Five Mindfulness Trainings is a good way to transform our behavior in a positive way. This is a teaching created by the Zen Monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
Some of these overlap with the precepts a little, so it would be repetitive to write about both here.
The Five Mindfulness Trainings
1) Protect other beings. This applies to humans as well as other animals and plants. We should protect and help whenever possible.
2) To prevent the exploitation of humans and other beings. The normal way of doing things is often to step on others in order to get ahead in life.
3) Be faithful in relationships.
4) Practice deep listening and loving speech
5) Be mindful about your consumption.

The Paramita of Patience

This represents our ability to receive and transform our suffering.
The Buddha compared acceptance to water. If you pour some salt into a glass of water it will have a big impact. If you pour it into a river it will have no impact at at all.
We are the same way.
If our ability to accept is small, then we will suffer a great deal even when very minor things happen, like someone saying an unkind word or annoying us.
But if our ability to accept is large, then such things won’t have quite the same impact on us. It is so easy to carry the weight of an unkind word or action with us.
This Paramita represents our ability to receive, accept, and transform any pain and suffering that comes our way. We often tend to make things worse for ourselves than they really need to be.

The Paramita of Diligence

This represents our motivation on the path.
This Paramita is our devotion to cultivating the other five. It’s the one that really keeps us inspired to continue rather than giving up.
We can recognize the things that cause suffering in ourselves and others and we should do what we can to lessen these things.
The Buddha sometimes described life in terms of watering seeds. The seeds of anger, jealousy, and despair exist in our minds and we should try to refrain from watering them if we can. This means trying to bring happiness to ourselves and others.
The Paramita of Diligence represents striving to water positive seeds in our minds instead.
It’s said to have three components:
1) courage: the development of character. The will to walk the path with a sense on conviction and also to motivate others by our desire to walk the path.
2) spiritual training: taking our practice in our own hands. This component represents expressing our commitment to practice, not just when we’re in meditation, but in our daily lives as well. Talking about Buddhist concepts is great, but we really need to put them into practice at home too. Learning about the Paramita of Generosity, for example, is good, but we also need to actually put it into practice and be generous.
3) benefiting others: the Buddhist path is helping us to lessen our suffering and clear away our delusion and that is great. But, another important aspect is our wish to not cause suffering for others. We call this the way of the Bodhisattva.

The Paramita of Meditation

Meditation in this sense consists of two aspects.
First is stopping. Our minds run through our whole lives, chasing one idea after another. Stopping means to stop in the present moment, to settle our monkey minds and be here now. Everything is in this moment. With this meditation practice we can calm our minds. We can practice mindful breathing, mindful walking, and mindful sitting. This is also the practice of concentration, so we can live deeply each moment of our lives, touching the deepest levels of our being.
The second aspect of meditation is looking deeply to see the true nature of things. This is where we really cultivate an understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

The Paramita of Wisdom

This is the highest form of understanding, free from concepts, ideas, and views. Prajna is the seed of Enlightenment within us. This is what carries us to Enlightenment.
There is a lot of Buddhist literature on the Paramita of Wisdom (prajnaparamita), including the Heart Sutra and the Diamond Sutra. I really recommend reading these.
What we can talk about is looking deeply at the nature of things. Waves have a beginning and an end. Some are big and some are small. But they’re all made of water. They all come from and return to the same ocean. And, more importantly, they’re never truly separate from the ocean.
If we look deeply at ourselves and the world around us, we can come to understand that we have the same nature as these waves. We share the same ground of being as all other beings.
The Paramita of Wisdom represents our understanding of the oneness of things and it’s really considered the most important of the six perfections.


 

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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 altar sutra

The Altar Sutra: Samadhi and Prajna

On another occasion the Patriarch gave this teaching:

In my system Samadhi and Prajna are fundamental.

Samadhi means Concentration or Single-Pointedness of Mind. Prajna means Wisdom, our intuitive understanding of things.

But don’t think that Samadhi and Prajna are two separate things. In my system they are inseparably united. Samadhi is the fundamental essence of Prajna. Prajna is the activity of Samadhi.

When we attain Samadhi, Prajna is there. When we engage Prajna, Samadhi is there. If you understand this, then you dwell in Samadhi and Prajna.

A student should not think there is a difference between Samadhi comes from Prajna or Prajna comes from Samadhi.

To hold an opinion that these are separate is to dwell in duality.

For one who speaks good words but has an impure heart, Samadhi and Prajna don’t help because they don’t balance each other.

But when we are good in mind and good in language, when our outward appearance and inner wisdom are in harmony, then we are dwelling in Samadhi and Prajna.

An Enlightened student doesn’t need to debate the importance of Samadhi and Prajna because argument only strengthens the ego and causes us to remain in duality.

Samadhi and Prajna are like a lamp and its light. With the lamp there is light. Without it there would be darkness. In name there are two things, but in substance they are the same. It is the same with Samadhi and Prajna.

There have been some sects in Buddhist history who suggested only cultivating concentration or only cultivating wisdom. Hui-neng is challenging this philosophy. He is saying that both Samadhi and Prajna are of equal importance and we must cultivate them both.

On another occasion the Patriarch gave this teaching:

To practice Samadhi is to make it a rule to be devoted to mindfulness in all occasions.

The Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra say, “Mindfulness is the holy place, the Pure Land.”

Don’t practice mindfulness only in meditation. Practice it in everything that you do.

People are under delusion when they think we only practice on the meditation cushion.
When we free our minds from attachment, the path becomes clear.

On another occasion the Patriarch gave this teaching:

In true Buddhism the distinction between ‘Sudden’ and ‘Gradual’ does not really exist. The only difference is that some have an easy time clearing away their delusion and others have a hard time.
Those who have an easy time, who are very mindful already, realize the truth suddenly. Those who have a difficult time have to train themselves slowly.

But such a difference disappears once we realize our True Nature.
So, these terms, gradual and sudden, aren’t real in any meaningful way. They are just labels.

It has been the tradition of our school to take ‘Idealessness’ as our object, ‘Non-objectivity’ as our basis, and ‘Non-attachment’ as our fundamental principle. ‘Idealessness’ means no to be carried away by any particular idea. ‘Non-objectivity’ means not being absorbed by objects when we come in contact with them. ‘Nonattachment’ is the characteristic of our true nature.

All things, whether good or bad, beautiful or ugly, should be treated as void. Think of friends and enemies as the same because all are one. In thought, let the past be dead. Dwell in the present instead.

Hui-neng is pointing out something that we often do. We put artificial labels on things and then assume those labels are real.

Because of this we take ‘Non-attachment’ as our fundamental principle.
To free ourselves from attachment to external objects is called ‘Non-objectivity’. When we can do this, our true nature is clear.

Keeping our minds free of delusion is called ‘Idea-lessness’.

We should also not let our minds get carried away by circumstances.

We take ‘Idea-lessness’ as our object because there is a ype of individual under delusion who boasts of their great Enlightenment, but is attached to erroneous views.
To say there is attainment and to talk thoughtlessly about it is also a form of duality.

In ‘Idea-lessness’ we should overcome duality.

If we are adept at overcoming duality, then we can be Awakened.