Posted in Mirror of Zen

Mirror of Zen

The Mirror of Zen is a text that was written by a teacher named So Sahn. He is one of the most revered Zen Masters in the history of Seon Buddhism. He was a Korean teacher and he tried to distill Zen teachings from over 50 sutras into a container that could easily be understood.

So Sahn lived in the 1500s. He became a monk at the age of 21 and dedicated himself to lifelong study. He lived in a time of great peril, when Korea was at war with Japan.

In these days there was some debate over whether practice should be centered on meditation or sutra study. Several different branches of Buddhism arose because of this debate, putting different levels of emphasis on different aspects of the Dharma. There were some saying we should just study the words of the Buddha and we really don’t have to practice ourselves. There are others who say that we just have to practice, that studying in any way is a distraction from our practice, we just have to sit like the Buddha did.

So Sahn dedicated himself to trying to bridge that gap. He thought that sutra study and practice were equally important. That’s actually a pretty common opinion these days, but not in So Sahn’s time.

It’s with this in mind that he wrote “The Mirror of Zen,” which is at once a study of core Zen concepts and also a practice manual. It’s a tiny little book. It can be read in just a couple of hours, but it has incredible depth.

I went through this text in great detail, but I also skipped the sections about how to be a good monk, since I don’t believe anyone reading this is a monk, I thought those areas wouldn’t be necessary.

Mirror of Zen: Part 1

Mirror of Zen: Part 2

Mirror of Zen: Part 3

Mirror of Zen: Part 4

Mirror of Zen: Part 5


 

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Posted in diamond sutra, Uncategorized

Paradox in the Diamond Sutra

No one claims the Diamond Sutra is an easy text to understand.

It’s said to be so full of meaning that it can point us directly to Enlightenment, so of course it’s not an easy text. It would be crazy for someone to pick this text as their first class to teach at their local Buddhist temple. *ahem*

Anyway, it’s tough. That’s what I’m trying to say. A lot of the passages are have to be read multiple times to be understood and it’s so repetitive that that can be overwhelming too.

But I want to talk about what I think is the hardest part to grasp for most people. That’s the use of paradoxical statements. I’m going to present one example, but bear in mind that the Buddha uses this kind of statement several times in the sutra.

“What do you think, Subhuti? Does a bodhisattva create a serene and beautiful Buddha field?”
“No, World-Honored One. Why? To create a serene and beautiful Buddha field is not in fact creating a serene and beautiful Buddha field. That is why it is called creating a serene and beautiful Buddha field.”

What the hell? Right?

So, what’s going on here? How can creating a Buddha field be not creating a Buddha field? And that’s why it’s called a Buddha field?

Subhuti clearly just contradicted himself. And the Buddha does, by the way, tell him that he’s right. In other parts of the sutra the Buddha makes the same kind of statement. What does it mean?

This Sutra is trying to take us beyond our dualistic thinking. Words like “serene” and “beautiful” and even “Buddha field” are labels that we put on the world. We create labels for everything in the world around us and then we pretend those labels are real.

But what if they’re not? What if we change the things we observe by naming them, and if we just let things be as they are we would see the world more clearly?

What if all the lines we draw, all the boundaries we set in the world are self-created too?

I’m not talking about the boundaries separating you and I, but the lines between us and everything around us. What if we’re more connected to each other, and to everything, than we realize.

Every line we draw in our minds to separate or categorize things is self-created.

The truth is there is no separation.

I’m not sure my explanation is any less complicated or hard to understand than the statements in the Diamond Sutra.

But I tried.

Posted in sutra

Comparing Sutras

Since I’m teaching a class on the Diamond Sutra for the next six weeks, I expect it will be on my mind a lot. You can expect me to write about it for a while and I hope that’s ok.

What’s significant about the Diamond Sutra is that it’s down to earth and it presents the Buddha as a normal person, like us. It might not seem like a down to earth text the first time you read it. There’s a lot of talk about space and counting grains of sand and things like that.

Here is an example, comparing the first chapter of the Diamond Sutra with the beginning of another Sutra that was written around the same time, so we can compare thest two and see how down to earth the Diamond Sutra really is.

Diamond Sutra Opening:

This is what I heard one time when the Buddha was staying in the monastery in Anathapindika’s park in the Jeta Grove near Shravasti with a community of 1,250 bhikshus, fully ordained monks.

That day, when it was time to make the round for alms, the Buddha put on his sanghati robe and, holding his bowl, went into the city of Shravasti to seek alms food, going from house to house. When the almsround was completed, he returned to the monastery to eat the midday meal. Then he put away his sanghati robe and his bowl, washed his feet, arranged his cushion, and sat down.

Avatamsaka Sutra:

As soon as the Buddha entered this concentration, the magnificent pavilion became boundlessly vast, the surface of the earth appeared to be made of indestructible diamond, the surface of the ground covered with a net of all the finest jewels strewn around with flowers of many jewels with enormous gems strewn all over; it was adorned with sapphire pillars, with well-proportioned decorations of world-illuminating pearls of the finest water, with all kinds of gems combined in pairs, adorned with heaps of gold and jewels, with a dazzling array of turrets, arches, chambers, windows, and balconies.

————————

So, you can see clearly that the Diamond Sutra is just about seemingly ordinary things happening. The Avatamsaka Sutra, on the other hand, makes the Buddha sound like a wizard or something.

So, when I say the Diamond Sutra is down to earth, this is what I’m talking about.

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 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 meditation, sutra

From the Lotus Sutra

The Lotus Sutra says this about a meditator. ‘In a quiet place he practices meditation by controlling the mind. He sits motionless like Mount Sumeru.’

This is an important instruction. Stillness and silence seem like simple things. When we have them is when we can accomplish the most. It’s possible to meditate when surrounded by distractions, but it’s not ideal.

It’s much better to meditate in a calm and quiet place.

Posted in enlightenment

From the Confidence of the Mind Inscription

For reality to manifest here and now, do not distinguish between good and bad. To discriminate in this way is a disease of the mind, which obscures the realisation of the mysterious knowledge, and renders the practice of quiet study futile.

Discrimination represents the labels we put on things. We label things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, we look upon things with greed and aversion, but these are just meanings we are attaching to things, meanings that are not inherently present.

It’s important to recognize greed and delusion because they are two of the three poisons. They are things that do a lot to harm our efforts on the path.

We shape our reality with labels. Nothing is good or bad, everything just is. As long as we cling to these labels that we are creating, we are feeding a disease of the mind.

Greed and aversion inspire and support delusion. As long as we are suffering from the three poisons, understanding our true nature will remain beyond our reach.

Posted in altar sutra

The Altar Sutra: Dhyana

The Patriarch gave this teaching:

In our system of meditation we don’t dwell on the mind nor do we dwell on purity. Also we are active.
As to dwelling on the mind, the mind often leads us to delusion. When we realize this, there is no need to dwell on it.

As to dwelling on purity, our true nature is pure, so there is no reason to dwell on it. Dwelling on purity is to create a problem where none exists.

On another occasion the Patriarch gave this teaching:

What is sitting in meditation?
In our school, to sit means to gain freedom and to be mentally undisturbed by outward circumstances.
To meditate means to sit, dwelling in our Buddha nature.

What are Dhyana and Samadhi?
Dhyana means to be free from attachment to outer objects and Samadhi means to have inner peace. If we are attached to outer objects then our minds will be disturbed.
When we aren’t attached to outer objects, our minds are in peace. Our true nature is pure and the reason we are disurbed is because we allow ourselves to be carried away by circumstances and external objects.

One who is able to keep the mind undisturbed regardless of circumstances dwells in Samadhi.

To be free from attachment to outer objects is Dhyana and to attain inner peace is Samadhi. When we are in a position to relate to the world in Dhyana and to keep our minds in Samadhi, then we have attained Dhyana and Samadhi.

The Bodhisattva Sila Sutra says, “Our Essence of Mind is intrinsically pure.”

Let us realize this for ourselves and train ourselves to practice it and attain Enlightenment.

Posted in altar sutra

Altar Sutra: On Prajna: Part 1

On Prajna (Wisdom)

One day, after reciting the Heart Sutra, the Sixth Patriarch Huineng gave the following teaching:
The great seed of Awakening is within all of us. It is because our minds are under delusion that we fail to realize this. This is why we seek advice and guidance from Masters and Teachers
The truth is there is no difference between an Enlightened being and an ignorant one. The only difference is that an Enlightened being sees their own true nature.

Now, let’s talk about the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra so each of us can engage with wisdom.

Several things going on here. The Master is talking about the concept of Buddha nature. This is a traditional Mahayana Buddhist teaching that we are all awakened already, that Enlightenment isn’t something we are seeking, it’s just that we are trying to see through our delusion to see our Enlightened nature underneath. The Mahaprajnaparaimta Sutra is the Sutra of Great Transcendental Wisdom. We’ll talk more about that a little later.

Those who talk about wisdom all the time don’t know that wisdom is inherent in our nature. Talking about food won’t make you full when you’re hungry. Just so, talking about wisdom will not make you wise. We can sit and talk about Emptiness forever, but talking will not make us realize our fundamental nature. It’s pointless.

This is similar to a line from another famous Chinese spiritual text, the Tao Te Ching. “The way that can be spoken of is not the true way.” That is, once we start speaking, we have probably missed the point. The truth is beyond the language we can use to talk about it. Bodhidharma, the first Chinese Patriarch called it, “Beyond words and letters. Emptiness here means we are without inherent self nature. That is, there is no part of us that is really separate from the world around us. Our nature is oneness.

‘Mahaprajnaparamita’ is a Sanskrit word. It means Great Transcendental Wisdom.
We have to put Transcendental Wisdom into practice.Just reciting the teachings of Mahaprajnaparamita without putting them into practice is like a phantom, a delusion, a flash of lightning.

This reminds me of this quote from Ikkyu: ‘Like vanishing dew, a passing apparition or the sudden flash of lightning– already gone — thus should one regard one’s self,’

When we simply recite the teachings, we aren’t doing much good. We have to embody the teachings. Don’t study the Buddha. Be the Buddha.

The Buddha outside isn’t the true Buddha. The true Buddha is within.

Maha means ‘great’. The abilities of the mind are great. What lies within us is infinite, neither long nor short, neither happy nor sad, neither good nor evil.

Our true nature is Emptiness and there is really nothing to be attained. The Essence of our minds is the absolute void.

When I talk about Emptiness, don’t think in terms of nothingness or annihilation. We shouldn’t fall into this idea because then we could begin to think that nothing matters.

A very common mistake people make when they start learning about Buddhism. Buddhism is not nihilism. I think of Emptiness as being vast and open, like the sky.

The void we are talking about is capable of containing many things of various shape and size. The void
contains the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth.

The void contains all of these. So do we.

This echoes a quote by Rumi, the famous Muslim mystic:
‘You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop’

We call our true nature great because it contains all things. All things are within our nature. When we see the behavior of others, we must not be attached to it, so that our minds can be as void as the sky. In this way, we can say our minds are great. So, we use the word Maha.
The ignorant talk about it and the wise put it into practice.
The mind is great in capacity because it is one with everything.

When our minds work without being clouded by hindrance, to ‘come’ or to ‘go’ then we are dwelling in a state of ‘Prajna’, wisdom.

All wisdom comes from within ourselves.

Once we understand the essence of our minds, we can be free from delusion.

Posted in altar sutra, platform sutra

What is the Altar Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch?

The Altar Sutra is a Mahayana Buddhist text by the Sixth Patriarch in the Ch’an Buddhist tradition, Hui-neng.

Hui-neng (638–713) is one of the most respected and revered figures in Buddhist history. He was an illiterate woodcutter who suddenly attained Enlightenment upon hearing the Diamond Sutra. He became the Sixth Patriarch in the Ch’an tradition. All Ch’an/Zen lineages descend from him. He is regarded as the creator of the Sudden Enlightenment philosophy. He embodies the fact that anyone can attain Enlightenment, regardless of education, class, or lineage.

His collection of talks is called the Altar Sutra, Liùzǔ Tánjīng. The title is often translated as either ‘the Platform Sutra’ or simply, ‘The Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch’. I think Altar Sutra is a more accurate title, but it is debatable and has been debated at length. Sometimes it’s simply called the Sutra of Huineng.

It is the only Chinese Buddhist text that has been given the title Sutra.

I’m going to write my own line by line commentary of this Sutra, as time permits.

My version differs from most. I have placed Huineng’s autobiography at the end and his wonderful teachings at the beginning.

It’s not that the Master’s story isn’t important. Of course it is. But, I think, far too often we get caught up in hero worship and we pay attention to the story instead of the teachings. The story matters, but the teachings are what we need to remember.