Friday, December 31, 2010

Sutra and Tantra

               In another forum I recently was asked, what exactly was the difference between Sutra and Tantra ? I wrote the following response. It seemed like a worthy question so I am reprinting my response here.
                  The word Sutra is Sanskrit and literally means a thread or line that holds things together. Sutta is the Pali translation of the Sanskrit word Sutra. Sanskrit originally meant “refined speech” and is the historical language the Indo-Aryan peoples. It was the primary liturgical Language of both Hinduism and Buddhism. That is to say all the original religious texts of both were written in Sanskrit. So in Buddhism, the sutra refers mostly to canonical scriptures, many of which are regarded as records of the oral teachings of Gautama Buddha. A Sutra is usually a scriptural narrative, especially a text traditionally regarded as a discourse of the Buddha.
           Pali is a literary language of the Prakrit language family. When the canonical texts of Buddhism were written down in Sri Lanka in the first century BCE they were translated from Sanskrit to Pali. According to traditional Sri Lankan chronicles (such as the Dipavamsa), Buddhism was introduced into Sri Lanka in the 2nd century BCE by Venerable Mahinda, the son of the Indian Emperor Ashoka, during the reign of Sri Lanka's King Devanampiya Tissa. During this time, a sapling of the Bodhi Tree was brought to Sri Lanka and the first monasteries were established under the sponsorship of the Sri Lankan king.
         When the Turkic Muslims invaded India they literally wiped Buddhism off the face of India. They burned the Buddhist texts in India, therefore the majority of remaining Buddhist scripture was preserved in what is called the Pali Cannon. Later Large volumes of Buddhist sutras were found in both Tibet and China. The Pali Cannon are the only texts recognized by Theravada Buddhism as canonical.
           Tantra in Sanskrit meant loom; also specifically, the warp thread that dresses the loom and gives support to the fabric formed by the moving shuttle or, in a rug, the individual knots. Without it, there can be no cloth. It can also refer to the cord used for stringing beads to make a necklace, a rosary, mala. Tantric or more rarely, tantrik, is the adjectival form of tantra and it has come to mean continuous, or continuity in the sense of unbroken.
                    Tantrism refers to a specific approach or type of practice which has the connotation of an esoteric system in which exercises, practices and rituals are handed down directly from teacher to student by word of mouth, though often with the aid of teaching materials in the form of pamphlets and pictures. Such a manual can also be called a tantra. Any tantra is usually part of a system that was discovered, developed or established to explain, teach and initiate people into a radically different way of looking at, and acting in, the world. The esoteric, concealed, or secret part is often misunderstood as a reference to the intentional concealment of ancient practices.
                The form of Tantric practice most familure to western students today is Vajrayana, a form brought to the west primarily by the Tibetans. Vajrayana Buddhism is also known as Tantric Buddhism, Tantrayāna, Mantrayāna, Secret Mantra, Esoteric Buddhism and the Diamond Vehicle. Be aware that there are also tantric forms of Hinduism. So in English today Tantras are defined as a scripture taught by the Buddha describing the Vajrayana practices.
                  According to Vajrayana scriptures Vajrayana refers to one of three routes to enlightenment, the other two being Hinayana and Mahayana. (Hinayana being a insulting term (smaller vehicle) they apply to Theravadin Buddhism). Sutra practice called Sūtrayāna, (Sanskrit) in the Indo-Tibetan three-fold classification of yanas, is the yana (mode of practice) that leads to the realization of emptiness. It consists of Hinayana and Mahayana. The other two yanas, according to this classification, are Tantrayana and Dzogchen, which together constitute Vajrayana. Of course the Vajrayana folks see themselves as more advanced since they employ methods they believe can lead to Buddha hood in a single lifetime of practice. Some of which are Deity yoga, Four complete purities and Guru yoga. These forms usually require an initiation called an empowerment ceremony.
  Zen is considered a form of  Mahayana, Sūtrayāna in this classification system.

Monday, December 20, 2010


                This has been a month of ceremony at my Zendo. We had Shukke Tokudo Ceremony (ordination ceremony) and Zaike Tokudo Ceremony (discipleship ceremony) along with our usual weekly ceremonies. If there is one thing that all Buddhist seem to have in common it is their seeming love of rituals and ceremony.

       Just so we are clear a ceremony is an event of ritual significance, performed on a special occasion. A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community. The term usually excludes actions which are arbitrarily chosen by the performers.
     As some of you know I practiced Vajrayana Buddhism before I came to practice Zen. With all respect and no insult to them my old Tibetan teachers loved ceremony and could put on a ritual at the drop of the preverbal hat. Until I actually joined a Zen group I had thought they would be real low on the ceremony meter.
         I guess my idea of how Zen was practiced was shaped by the Books and stories I had read. I saw Zen as shedding all paper and all standardized practice. You know what I mean, the Zen master who appears out of no where, says something both profound and confusing and then disappears over the hill in a cloud of dust.
         So I was surprised when I found that they were generally speaking as fond of ceremony as the next school of Buddhism. Earlier this year I read a wonderful book called “Soto Zen In Medieval Japan” by William M. Bodiford. I am by the way, after reading several things written by him, beginning to believe Mr. Bodiford is the greatest Soto Zen scholar the English speaking world has ever produced, just so you know.
        Historically speaking if Mr. Bodiford is correct ceremony and rituals were very much what Soto Zen was all about after the third generation of the Soto Zen School in Japan. Rituals for weddings and funerals paid the monks rent for centuries. Rich patrons paid monks to do blessing rituals for their relatives both living and dead. The monks would chant and pray for Granny two times a day and the grand children would fork over the land or the cash you needed.
         In fact it appears that for many years teaching someone how all the rituals were performed was how the early Soto Zen Masters “made” Dharma heirs and transferred their lineage. Bodiford claims that one great master asserted knowing the rituals is the complete essence of Zen. That the ceremonies Dogen brought from China were the sum total of his gift to Buddhism. I don’t think anyone can doubt the importance Dogen placed on ceremony; however I really doubt that he himself believed that the ceremonies he taught were all there was to his Zen.
         In Japan today Soto Zen still seems awash in ritual and ceremony. In the Temples and Monasteries It appears to me that the Zen monks of today’s Japan do as many ceremonies as anyone else in Buddhism.
         In America I think explaining Buddhist ceremony especially to the kind of people Zen attracts is often a hard sell. Unlike Buddhist of the past most Americans who come to Zen today reject the idea that ceremonies are a valid form of magic that can have a real influence upon them in this world and the next. The most common stated reason I encountered early on was that performing and even watching and listing to a ritual gained you merit.
           I have heard my teacher explain the meaning and significance of ceremony and for the life of me I just seemed to hear noise. This happens to me sometimes when explanations, true or not, just don’t make any sense to me. I mean no disrespect to him, it's just sometimes I just don't get it.
          Of course there is the standard fall back position that ceremony and ritual in Buddhism are upaya, which is Sanskrit for "skillful means." If they are upaya that would of course imply that performing or watching them somehow is of a spiritual benefit to the practitioner on his way towards enlightenment, or a relaxing sit, whichever comes first?

           Dogen said, “To carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion. That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening.” I suppose that treating the ritual or the ceremony the same way you treat kinhin (walking meditation) might make that verse apply to ceremony.
          On the whole my experience with the ceremonies conducted this month was an enjoyable one. But I do have a concern to express here.
           We seldom have a talk on how to experience a ceremony. I know I have heard it said to do a ceremony like you do zazen, but my real worry is that zazen is becoming a ceremony in and of itself. I see people grasping for the proper posture and sitting as ridge as a post, looking good and fearful of even scratching their nose, because we all know how the ceremony is performed, how it should look and what it should sound like.

          So I really have no problem with ceremony in zen, its zazen as ceremony that worries me.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


“The universe exists because of the karma of the beings who wish to live in it.” - HHDL

       The glaciers feeding the Indus River are melting at an unprecedented rate due to global warming. The Indus provides a major agricultural irrigation source for both India and Pakistan. Both countries are putting extreme pressure on the river by over extraction of water for agriculture. If the Indus dry’s up this will not only decimate crops in both countries but will endanger freshwater fish populations which is also another important food source for both countries. Both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons and a long history of animosity. This is just one possible scenario for the end of civilization, at least on the Indian sub content.

       Of course the Indus is not the only major river system in danger of drying up. Among those rivers considered in immediate danger are the Yangtze, the Salween and the Ganges. In serious danger are also: Danube, that flows in Europe, African Nile and Rio Grande, flowing in South America.

       In recent years, locally, we have seen Alabama and Georgia become entangled in a major legal battle over water. The two states endured a 4 year drought that had them at each others throats. In Australia their so called drought has lasted almost ten years. Mongolia’s recent five year drought has just ended. All across the world fresh water is being polluted and its sources destroyed through the stupidity of man.

      Many people may doubt that our Karma created this world, but the time is fast approaching when no one can debate the sad fact that we are destroying it with our own hands. Of course what that really means is we are simply making this world uninhabitable for human beings. No matter what we do the planet will continue, it is only ours selves we are really destroying.

        Water has always seemed magical to me. It flows; it rises as steam and clouds and falls as white silky snow or pouring rain. Water is a universal solvent that forms and sculpts rock like an artist’s unseen hand. Since our bodies are 98% Water you might even say we are water in walking form.

It was our beginning, when it leaves here so will we.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


There are no unique events. Nothing in the universe ever happens just once.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I desire!

        The things we desire are never what we have. Therefore desire resides in the past and the moves the mind into the future. You desired something in the past and sought to obtain it, or you felt aversion to something and sought to avoid it. You desire to “get” something in the future or to avoid something in the future and this drives you into the future like a hungry ghost never being able to satisfy your hunger. So desire has no end, except in the now.  What would we be like if we truly desired nothing, truly wished to avoid nothing?

           To truly sit in the now, to maintain the now can end desire or at least reduce it considerably. How real would we seem if we wanted nothing? If I become less and less real in the now is that an observation of emptiness? If I could sit exactly in the now would I simply disappear? Or would that be an observation of emptiness, would that be the ultimate “I”.

      In most schools of Buddhism they define a person as an “I” or ego that arises from or is imputed from the five aggregates:

1. The aggregate of Form

2. The aggregate of Consciousness

3. Feeling

4. The aggregate of perception or discrimination.

5. The aggregate of mental formation or volition.

               It is the function or simply the activity if you wish of the “person” to perform actions and experience their results. This is then is the nature of our existence and it is also a very good description of the process we call Karma. But my true face is not found in these aggregates, it is empty.

               Walls, rivers and great distance all act as obstructions to my body, but what obstructs my mind are the constant delusions these aggregates create. The most destructive of these delusions are the constant desires that drive it along like an ox before the wipe. My experience has been the more I hate, love, want and desire the greater my sense of myself, the more real I seem and the more I suffer. The “I” takes this constant stream of wants, wish’s and desires, it feeds upon this unending activity of desire and aversion.

                So what wisdom, when my mother was always asking me to sit still, to stop my constant fidgeting and squirming, but I think it is the constant fidgeting of our minds that we most stop by resting it in the now.

                  I think it would be fair to say that our true function is to experience emptiness, then we can all go home.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Don't Mind if I do!

   "After arriving in China, Dogen traveled and practiced in several monasteries with different teachers before finding Ru Jing, or Tendo Nyojo, who was to be his main teacher. According to Dogen’s diary, one morning when Ru Jing was circumambulating the Zendo, doing the morning greeting at the beginning of zazen, he found a monk dozing. Dogen heard Ru Jing scolding the dozing monk, "The practice of zazen is the dropping away of body and mind. What do you expect to accomplish by dozing?" When Dogen heard this, he had a realization and went to Ru Jing’s room and offered incense and bowed. When Ru Jing asked why he was doing this, Dogen said, "Body and mind have been dropped, that is why I have come!" Ru Jing approved saying, "Body and mind have been dropped; you have dropped body and mind!"

         In traditional Buddhist philosophy the mind of a sentient being is not a product of biological processes, but something primordial which has always existed outside of time itself. The basic Buddhist view point as described by the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna is that Mind and Body are two distinct and completely different kinds of phenomena and therefore given the nature of cause and effect the physical body can not be the cause of the mind. In other words he flatly rejected the idea that mind is caused by physical processes in the brain.
           Nagarjuna did acknowledge that the physical brain was an instrument through which information was received and that it was also the instrument through which actions were generated and cognition of physical events were perceived. Generally speaking upon death what Buddhist philosophers call 'The Very Subtle Mind' Continues on after the death of the body. Having previously had countless previous lives, depending upon its state of development, this very subtle mind may proceed to experience the physical world through countless future lives.
          This physical/mental duality is not confined to eastern philosophy. In modern philosophy of mind, this dualism is defined as a set of views about the relationship between mind and matter, which begins with the claim that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical. Plato and Aristotle and certainly Descartes and Spinoza are perfect examples of this very same dualism in western philosophy.
         It has been almost universal that since man became sentient he has rejected the idea that sentience is nothing more than a by product of physical interactions. The effort by both philosophers and scientists to reconcile this duality has been ongoing for centuries simply because the observable interconnected nature of the physical brain and the phenomena we call a mind can neither be ignored nor easly and rationally explained.
           The basic recognition of the above paradox is called Substance Dualism. This so called Substance dualism is a type of dualism most notably  proposed by Descartes, which states that there are two fundamental kinds of substance: mental and material. According to his philosophy, which is specifically called Cartesian dualism, the mental does not have extension in space, and the material cannot think. This is the position of virtually all theology including Buddhism. Of course some people have claimed that this is only true of humans and for some reason excludes all other thinking and feeling creatures. But there is nothing native to substance dualism that would require such a distinction and Buddhism dose not make that distinction.
      In theology the mind and or the soul, depending upon the belief system, claims that mind or souls occupy an independent "realm" of existence distinct from that of the physical world. This is a version of reality that is routinely rejected by modern materialists and many scientists. Rejecting the obvious  evidence of the mind and mental phenomena itself, they attest that there simply is no evidence to support this position. In this view mind is no more than condensation on the brain and is in fact a figment of the imagination we don’t really have.
      Recently professor David chambers, a philosopher at the Australian National University, aka Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Consciousness, developed a thought experiment inspired by the movie “The Matrix” in which substance dualism could be true: Consider a computer simulation in which the bodies of the creatures are controlled by their minds and the minds remain strictly external to the simulation. The creatures can do all the science they want in the world, but they will never be able to figure out where their minds are, for they do not exist in their observable universe. This is a case of substance dualism with respect to computer simulation.

     One modern explanation of the mind/body problem is called “property Dualism”.

    “By Property Dualism the brain possesses at least two types of properties, physical and mental. From this it follows that all conscious experiences are properties of the underlying substance which manifests itself physically as the brain. Furthermore, in this line of thinking consciousness is itself a property. This is absurd, however, because if this is true then I (and you) am (are) a property (ies).” OOPS! Once again we are simply condensation on a brain.
      The simple truth is science and materialism would require that either the electro chemical processes of the brain 'create' or 'give rise to' the mind; or is it that the electrochemical processes are the mind?”
In short Consciousness is either generated by brain activity, or, is brain activity.

           The only way many modern materialist have been able to justify their claims is through the theory of Emergent Properties. This so called Emergence is a well developed philosophical term of art. A variety of theorists have appropriated it for their purposes ever since George Henry Lewes gave it a philosophical sense in his 1875 Problems of Life and Mind. We might roughly characterize the shared meaning thus: emergent entities (properties or substances) ‘arise’ out of more fundamental entities and yet are ‘novel’ or ‘irreducible’ with respect to them.

        So many modern materialists, notably John Rogers Searle an American philosopher and currently the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley and Buddhist philosopher, Stephen Batchelor now claim that consciousness is simply an emergent property of the physical process of the brain.

          As I previously said the definition of emergence given in the Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind is:

“Emergence - Properties of a complex physical system are emergent just in case they are neither (i) properties had by any parts of the system taken in isolation nor (ii) resultant of a mere summation of properties of parts of the system.”

“Thus a boat which drifts northwestwards in response to a southerly wind and a current flowing from the east is not exhibiting emergent behavior, whereas the products of chemical reactions could be considered emergent.”
See: Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind.

There is however one major problem with this theory.

      "The notion of reduction is intimately tied to the ease of understanding one level in terms of another. Emergent properties are usually properties that are more easily understood in their own right than in terms of properties at a lower level. This suggests an important observation:
       Emergence is a psychological property.
      It is not a metaphysical absolute. Properties are classed as "emergent" based at least in part on (1) the interestingness to a given observer of the high-level property at hand; and (2) the difficulty of an observer's deducing the high-level property from low-level properties"
See: David Chalmers “notes on emergence”
        “So we can dismiss all claims that consciousness, mind and awareness are emergent properties of matter or brains, because we need the presence of a mind for emergent properties and phenomena to appear in the first place. The subjective activity of the mind of the observer, together with the 'objective' procedures and the structures upon which they operate, is an irreducible component of emergent phenomena.” So we find that the emergence theory is impossible because it requires a mind to preexist mind. Not even a quantum theorist could accept this, wait maybe he could at that.
         It is of course beyond the will power of most modern thinkers to say to themselves maybe we simply don’t have enough information to solve the mind/body paradox at this time.
           But being Zen I will investigate this problem on the meditation cushion. I think that deep in the writings of Master Dogen this question may have been answered. So I will simply doubt that any present theory on the issue is “True”. I will wait for mind and body to drop away, as Master Dogen has suggested I do, and then I may become aware of the truth.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Getting Old and Sitting

In Fukanzazeng (Rules of Zazen) Master Dogen says:

“In meditating you should have a quiet room. Eat and drink in moderation. Forsake myriad relations-abstain from everything. Do not think of good and evil. Do not think of right and wrong. Stop the function of mind, of will, of consciousness. Keep from meaning memory, perception, and insight. Do not strive to become the Buddha. Do not cling to sitting or lying down.”


“This cross-legged sitting is not step by step meditation. It is merely comfortable teaching. It is the training and enlightenment of thorough wisdom. The Koan will appear in daily life. You are completely free - like the dragon that has water or the tiger that depends on the mountain. You must realize that the Right Law naturally appears, and your mind will be free from sinking and distraction. When you stand from zazen, shake your body and arise calmly. Do not move violently. That which transcends the commoner and the sage - dying while sitting and standing is obtained through the help of this power: this I have seen. Also the supreme function (lifting the finger, using the needle, hitting the wooden gong) and enlightenment signs (raising the hossu, striking with the fist; hitting with the staff; shouting): are not understood- by discrimination. You cannot understand training and enlightenment well by supernatural power. It is a condition (sitting, standing, and sleeping) beyond voice and visible things. It is the true beyond discriminatory views. So don't argue about the wise and foolish. If you can only train hard, this is true enlightenment. Training and enlightenment are by nature undefiled. Living by Zen is not separated from daily life.”

“Buddha’s in this world and in that and the patriarchs in India and China equally preserved the Buddha seal and spread the true style of Zen. All actions and things are penetrated with pure zazen. The means of training are various, but do pure zazen. Don't travel futilely to other dusty lands, forsaking your own sitting place. If you mistake the first step, you will stumble immediately. You have already obtained the vital functions of man's body. Don't waste time in vain. You can hold the essence of Buddhism. Is it good to enjoy the fleeting world? The body is transient like dew on the grass-life is swift like a flash of lightning. The body passes quickly, and life is gone in a moment.”

Dogen wrote these words when he was 28 years old and in the prime of his life. He had just returned from China and he was just starting his life’s work. Four years later at the age of 32 he wrote Bendowa, In which he comments:

“All the Buddhas and patriarchs who transmitted Buddhism considered sitting and practicing self-joyous meditation the true way of enlightenment. The enlightened ones in both the East and West followed this style. This is because the masters and their disciples correctly transmitted this superior method from person to person and received the uncorrupted truth.”


“It is a condition (sitting, standing, and sleeping) beyond voice and visible things.”

“It is a condition (sitting, standing, and sleeping) beyond voice and visible things.”

“It is a condition (sitting, standing, and sleeping) beyond voice and visible things.

     Wake up, stands up, walk --- lay down, sleep, 
“This cross-legged sitting is not step by step meditation. It is merely comfortable teaching. It is the training and enlightenment of thorough wisdom. The Koan will appear in daily life. You are completely free - like the dragon that has water or the tiger that depends on the mountain.”

Maybe - there is zazen that is all of this and more, maybe even when we can no longer sit, we can walk to enlightenment-- or stand our way there.. it is after all the "merely confortable teaching"

Monday, November 8, 2010

The invention of an ancient and honorable tradition.

In the middle 60’s in Japan some nuns located at the Kaizenji Monastery in Nagoya Japan  , under the direction of their new Abbess Yoshida Roshi, decided to sew their own robes. This practice spread to a few other temples in Japan being over seen by female priests and nuns. This was and never has been a requirement supported by the Soto Shu (Soto Zen School) in Japan; in fact they have their own (official) supplier of their robes and garments.

In 1970 Abbess Yoshida Roshi visited the San Francisco Zen center and while there suggested to Zenkei Blanche Hartman that the center should adopt the so called Nyoho-e, or “clothing made according to the Dharma.” Tradition that she and some other abbesses in Japan had more or less recently invented. Yoshida Roshi suggested that one of the centers members visit a Japanese nun involved in creating this practice to learn to sew. So at least 3 of the centers female members went to Japan to learn sewing from the nun’s.

Sewing practice as a (tradition) however would have to wait for Suzuki Roshi’s death. Suzuki never endorsed the practice as a requirement in Zen. Once Zenkei Blanche Hartman (a nice Jewish lady born in Birmingham Alabama) became abbess of the center the new “ancient” tradition was officially born. The founders  of this tradition in the Untied States were Zenkei Blanche Hartman, Joyce Browning, Virginia Baker, Kasai Joshin and Pat Herroshoff. The practice was concurrently accepted by and endorsed by Shohaku Okumura, whom I am willing to bet never sewed a robe in his life up until that time. Doctrinally this practice has been supported by two essays in the Shobogenzo in which Dogen praises the importance of and symbolic nature of the Zen monks robes. Neither essay mentions sewing.  It has now become popular with many western Zen Centers and/or centers run by American teachers in Japan.. It is however still not endorsed by the Japanese Sotoshu.

So there you have the complete history (more or less) of the sewing linage in Zen.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Zen and The Lay Practitioner

       Ladies and Gentleman in this corner we have Sariputra a monk who we all know and love. He has appeared in countless Theravadin sutra’s and is best known for his bumbling comic repartee with the Buddha and friends. He has decided to appear in one of the first Mahayana sutras, never a good idea, were he will reprise his role as the guy who always gets it wrong. He represents Theravadin Buddhism in this play.

         Now in the other corner we have Vimalakīrti, appearing for the first time in his role as the ideal Mahayanist lay practitioner and a contemporary of Gautama Buddha. The first records of this play are believed to be from around 100 CE. It appears to have had a very short run in India but to have been extremely popular for centuries in China and later Japan. That’s right folks the “VIMALAKIRTI SUTRA” is in town.

       This play is surely the foundation of so much that we know and love in modern Zen Buddhism. Here we have a non-monastic so enlightened virtually every one but Buddha is intimidated by him. Vimalakirti kicks doctrinal rear literally working his way through the Buddhist pantheon with ease, and get this he isn’t a monk or an ascetic. So along with the foundational Mahayanist teachings he for the first time demonstrates that Lay Buddhist can be more than cash donors for Buddhist monks.

         Then to top it off this layman will now teach the Dharma of non duality. Yes Zen lovers here is that now famous scene:

("Salutation to the Sangha").

“Then the crown prince Manjusri said to the Licchavi Vimalakirti, "We have all given our own teachings, noble sir. Now, may you elucidate the teaching of the entrance into the principle of nonduality!"

Thereupon, the Licchavi Vimalakirti kept his silence, saying nothing at all.

The crown prince Manjusri applauded the Licchavi Vimalakirti: "Excellent! Excellent, noble sir! This is indeed the entrance into the nonduality of the bodhisattvas. Here there is no use for syllables, sounds, and ideas."

When these teachings had been declared, five thousand bodhisattvas entered the door of the Dharma of nonduality and attained tolerance of the birthlessness of things. “

              That’s right Zen lovers he expounds non duality by his “silence”. And what about our friend Sariputra who after arguing Dharma with a Goddess who has been crashing at Vimalakirti’s house is rendered, you got it absolutely silent. Well could anything be more Zen than that, I ask you, wait! No don’t answer that.

              Now can we have a round of applause for the prototypical Zen master of the 21st century? Vimalakirti is a Mahayanist, he is a layman, yes folks he has a job and pays rent. And what is this guy into, that’s right non duality as he sits around the house in silence. As for our Theravadin hero Sariputra, well he has been taught the value of keeping his mouth closed.
            Now I know I don’t sit as much as my teachers want, but I am a laymen and after all Dogen said if you sit for five minutes a day your Buddha five minutes a day, didn’t he?  Well isn't it better to be Buddha for five minutes than not at all, but I digress.

You could say that Zen is the Vimalakirti school of Buddism, but if your really Zen, you won't say a word.

“The purpose of Zen Buddhism is to become deeply aware of the fact that the Buddha-nature is within and to develop it. When you sit in meditation with this realization or faith, the original enlightenment of the Buddha permeates your body and mind. Continued sitting perfects them. You are sitting in the same bodily position as the Buddha when he reached enlightenment, and you have the same Buddha-nature within you. Your mind cannot be separated from this sitting, and your meditation "becomes" that of the Buddha. Your life is like a diamond. Under the surface of the raw diamond is a precious jewel, but without polish it does not shine. The jewel is the Buddha-nature, and the polish is practice. The practice is both sitting in meditation and daily work.”    ---- Rev. Dr. Soyu Matsuoka, Roshi
                    January 12, 1964
©August 10, 2000 Zenkai Taiun Michael J. Elliston.

          We laymen are the past present and future of Zen, we always have been and always will be. So cheer up sensei, we can not lose.

We will sit.


             In a way I think we can say that ultimately we see the practice of Buddhism in all of its forms and schools as the practice and implementation of compassion. The ground of all Mahayana is wanting all sentient beings to be free from delusion and suffering. The skillful means to accomplish this is Buddhism.
              We insist that true compassion is based upon both logic and reason; by elevating it out of the mere emotional realm we can practice it despite the fact that people are often jerks and even sometimes monsters. We can accept our own deluded nature and that of others and not get “depressed” and thereby avoid falling into hopelessness. Therefore if you ask me how a Mahayana Buddhist implements compassion I must respond by implementing Buddhism in his life.
           We call logic and rationality combined with insight gained through meditation wisdom. Often wisdom and compassion seem to conflict. But Zen is paradox and of course paradox is Zen.
             To point you to a source for implementing compassion in Mahayana is asking me to point you to virtually everything that has been written on Mahayana because Mahayana is the great compassion. The best book I know on the paradox of practicing both compassion and wisdom is in French but here are some excerpts from it in English.

“Compassion is Mahayana, Mahayana is Compassion’, proclaims the Mahâparinirvâna Sutra. Compassion is the foundation or root of the entire Mahayana edifice. Vimalakîrti’s goddess says she is a Mahâyânist because she never abandons great compassion. It is the defining trait of the bodhisattva. The Abhidharmakosa-bhâsya tells us:

People without compassion and who think only of themselves find it hard to believe in the altruism of the bodhisattvas, but the compassionate believe in it easily. Do we not see that certain people, confirmed in the absence of pity, take pleasure in the suffering of others even when it is of no use to them? In the same way one must admit that the bodhisattvas, confirmed in compassion, take pleasure in doing good to others without any selfish design.”

From Ludovic Viévard’s book, Vacuité (sûnyatâ) et compassion (karunâ) dans le bouddhisme madhyamaka (Collège de France, 2002),

“One may say that ‘wisdom without compassion is empty, compassion without wisdom blind,’ but only rarely do Mahayana texts claim that compassion arises naturally from insight into emptiness. Compassion, directed actively to the welfare of all beings, seems to presuppose their real existence. It is based not on emptiness but on the ‘golden rule’ that treats the sufferings of others as equal to one’s own. Compassion gives a substantial presence to self and other, which wisdom would deny. There is no natural harmony between these two, for they go in opposite directions. Yet the essence of Mahayana lies in establishing the ultimate unity of compassion and wisdom. They are unified in practice in the figure of the bodhisattva, who move upward in wisdom and downward in compassion at the same time. The path to that unity is a difficult balancing act. ‘If one begins a career through wisdom, one will have to develop compassion, and vice versa the one who begins through compassion will have to purify it by wisdom’ (p. 17). Ludovic Viévard’s book, Vacuité (sûnyatâ) et compassion (karunâ) dans le bouddhisme madhyamaka (Collège de France, 2002),

Ludovic Viévard’s book, Vacuité (sûnyatâ) et compassion (karunâ) dans le bouddhisme madhyamaka (Collège de France, 2002),

Compassion extends first to beings, then to all dharmas, then it becomes objectless. The Buddha’s’ objectless compassion radiates spontaneously. It has become their very being. ‘Compassion is truly gratuitous and evident only for the Buddha’s and the great bodhisattvas, when it no longer has an object. The others are still tainted with views of me and mine, and thus prisoners of an egocentric vision… The great bodhisattvas and the Buddha’s practice a natural, “radiant” compassion without object (anâlambana-karunâ), which, says É. Lamotte, “acts mechanically”’ (p. 175).

Ludovic Viévard

Here the ultimate reality of compassion is defined as without object. Therefore compassion starts on the mundane level and becomes something different as we progress. But is in fact your wife not asking how can wisdom, i.e. Emptiness and Compassion be seen as compatible. Do they not logically oppose one another?

“For all who have not attained the objectless compassion of a Buddha, compassion, in practice, involves a descent from the heights of wisdom and a compromise with the dodgy realm of conventionality. Compassion accepts a certain residual bondage to the fleshly samsaric world in order to work toward a greater enlightenment, surpassing mere individual liberation. Bodhisattvas advance not by eventually abandoning compassion, as an entanglement with merely conventional beings, but by deepening it and applying to it the wisdom of emptiness at every step. “

Ludovic Viévard

“In essence the Madhyamaka see this conflict as merely illusory and say it has reality only for the ignorant and in convention and suggest Long meditation on the non-duality of wisdom and compassion as a practical project can perhaps prepare us to make better sense of the of an ultimate non-duality.”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Buddha -- news

One must be fair and one should admit that even Buddhism has its problems.
We western Buddhist often like to think of ourselves and Buddhism as so superior and aloof. I am feeling playful tonight so I thought I would post some news items from Buddhist countries.

– Buddhist Monks Held Over Tax Scam (AAP/ReligionNewsBlog; July 5, 2007)

Four South Korean Buddhist monks have been arrested for their part in an income tax scam involving the sale of fake donation receipts, a report said. The temple chiefs in the southwestern city of Gwangju were detained on Monday, the JoongAng Daily said.The scheme aimed to help 2,570 workers evade a total of $2.1 billion won ($2.28 million) in tax in 2005-2006, the paper said. Donations to charities, schools and religious organizations are tax-deductible up to a certain amount. Some monks even distributed pamphlets advertising the fake donation service, prosecutors were quoted as saying. “These temples were businesses selling fake receipts rather than religious organizations,” said prosecutor Jo Myeong-Sun. The finance ministry said it plans to crack down on the racket, including tougher punishment for offenders.

—– Experts Claim Buddha Tooth Relic In Singapore Temple Actually Came From An Animal (The Nation/The Buddhist Channel; July 15, 2007)

SINGAPORE: Dental experts have raised doubts over the authenticity of a purported Buddha’s tooth in a Singapore temple, claiming it could not have come from any human being, The Sunday Times reported.
More than 60,000 donors poured 45 million Singapore dollars (29 million US dollars) and 27 kilograms of gold into the four-storey building where the tooth, said to be one of Buddha’s molars, is kept in a 3.6-metre-high stupa made of gold. “There is absolutely no possibility that it is a human tooth,” Dr Pamela Craig, a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne’s school of dental science, was quoted as saying.
After examining photographs, Craig said it probably came from a cow or water buffalo.Human teeth should be rounded with a short crown and a comparatively longer root, but the picture clearly shows a long crown and a shorter root, she noted.“Looking at a photo is clear enough, because it’s so obvious that it’s not a human tooth,” she said. “It’s like comparing a pear and an apple.”Four other dentists, including two forensic dental experts, said the tooth could not have come from a human. “This is an animal cheek tooth – that is, a molar at the back of the mouth,” Professor David Whittaker at Cardiff University in Britain told the newspaper. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Singapore’s Chinatown said that the tooth was discovered by a monk in 1980 in Myanmar (Burma). He gave it to Venerable Shi Fazhao, the temple’s abbot, in 2002.
The public is allowed to see the tooth twice a year, on Buddha’s birthday and the first day of the Chinese New Year.“To me, it has always been real, and I have never questioned its authenticity,” Venerable Shi Fazhao told the newspaper. As for the assessments of the dental experts, he said: “I don’t care what they say. If you believe it’s real, then it’s real.” The temple dismissed the suggestion of conducting DNA tests on its relic. “It is unlikely that any Buddhist temple or its devotees will agree to subject any sacred Buddha tooth or relic to such a test,” the temple said in a statement.

—– Taiwanese Monk Jailed For Sexually Abusing Pupils (AFP/The Buddhist Channel; July 28, 2007)

TAIPEI, Taiwan: A monk has been jailed for eleven-and-a-half years for sexually abusing eight boys, a court official said yesterday, bringing an end to the long-running scandal. Shih Chih-hao, who ran a Buddhist academy in Taipei County, was found guilty of molesting and sexually assaulting the boys, all under 14 years old, said Wen Yao-yuan, spokesman for the Taiwan High Court.  The scandal erupted in 2000 when police began investigating allegations by some 25 pupils at the academy — a shelter for abused, runaway and impoverished boys — that they were sexually abused by Shih.  The boys reportedly said they were molested by Shih during meditation sessions or forced to have sex with him while they were taking baths.  In 2002 the Taipei District Court sentenced Shih to 12 years in jail. He appealed the ruling to the High Court, which upheld the previous verdict in 2004.  Shih, who claimed innocence, later appealed to the Supreme Court which ordered a new trial. The High Court on Thursday handed down a guilty verdict, but reduced the prison term to 11 years and six months plus mandatory therapy.  The 43-year-old monk first caught public attention when he took his pupils to a graveyard and told them to sit on tombs and meditate to overcome their fear of death.  The Buddhist academy, which had sheltered some 30 boys since its opening in 1999, was shut down after the scandal came to light.

—– Factional Feud Deepens In Buddhist Groups (Kim Tae-jong/The Korea Times/The Buddhist Channel; Sept 3, 2007)

SEOUL, South Korea: The diploma forgery scandal of a university professor has initiated a factional feud between Buddhist groups.  The strife came as some Buddhist groups argued over the controversial appointment of Shin Jeong-ah as a professor at Dongguk University, and has revealed deep-rooted areas of conflict that exist between the nation’s Buddhist sects. Eight Buddhist groups Monday urged Buddhist leaders to take action to deal with the scandalous issue.  “We are in a total crisis,” a representative from the groups said Monday during a news conference at the Jogye Temple in Jongno, downtown Seoul. “We now urge Buddhist leaders to take responsibility for the scandal and clarify all the allegations.” The move came after a series of scandals in Buddhist circles such as the appointment of Shin, dispute over the appointment of the head monk at Jeju Gwaneum Temple and embezzlement by the head monk of Baekdam Temple.
The eight Buddhist groups include Buddhist Solidarity for Reform, Korea Youth Buddhist Association and Buddhist Environmental Solidarity.  But the appointment has spawned speculation that high-profile Buddhist leaders were involved in the scandal as Shin was hired at the university, which has a Buddhist foundation. The matter is developing into factional feud between mainstream and non-mainstream Buddhist groups.
On Aug. 31, Muryanghoe, a monk’s group which belongs to the nation’s biggest Buddhist sect, the Jogye Order, called for the dismissal of all the board directors of Dongguk University Foundation for their responsibility over Shin’s scandal. But the action is allegedly part of the Jogye Order’s attack on Borimhoe and Geumganghoe, two mainstream groups in the university’s foundation.  The allegation is raised that the Jogye Order had Ven. Jang Yoon serve as a board director of the university’s foundation to have an influence on the university; but when the attempt to exercise influence failed, he disclosed the scandal over Shin’s appointment.  Ven. Jang Yoon, who first raised the suspicion about Shin’s educational background, belongs to the group and also serves as a board director of the university’s foundation….
The involvement of Buddhist sects in the bogus diploma scandal will be clarified after the interrogation of Hong Ki-sam, the former president of the university.  The prosecution will summon him for interrogation over questions about how Shin was appointed despite opposition based on the authenticity of her diplomas….

—– Buddhist Priest Stole $1.5 Million (Japan Times; Nov 30, 2007)

KYOTO: Police arrested an unfrocked Buddhist priest Thursday on suspicion of embezzling about 150 million yen [about $1.5 million US] from the Kyoto headquarters of the Jodo Shu sect.
Yoshifumi Kuwao, 52, is suspected of withdrawing the money from the Buddhist faction’s bank account on about 30 occasions from January 2003 to September 2004 and pocketing it while he was in charge of treasury affairs at the headquarters, police said.  Kuwao has owned up to the allegations, they said.
Police sources said Kuwao is believed to have used most of the funds to invest in futures trading.

—– Scandal Gnaws At Buddha’s Holy Tree In India (Reuters/ReligiousNewsBlog; Feb 3, 2008)

BODH GAYA, India: Tales of corruption, looting and religious rivalry are swirling around the spot where Buddha is said to have gained enlightenment in eastern India some 2,500 years ago, sullying one of Buddhism’s holiest sites. Buddhist scriptures describe it as the “Navel of the Earth,” and 100,000 pilgrims and tourists visit every year, packing the town of Bodh Gaya in Bihar state and its Mahabodhi Temple.
An ancient pipal tree, Ficus religiosa or sacred fig, grows at the back of the temple, said to be a descendent of the one Buddha sat under for three days and nights in the sixth century BC, before finding the answers he sought under a full moon.  But with the tourists and pilgrims comes money, and with the money has come mounting charges of less than saintly behavior.  Priests and monks allege that thousands of dollars in temple donations have mysteriously vanished, that a thick branch of the ancient holy Bodhi tree was lopped off and sold in Thailand in 2006, and that ancient relics have disappeared.  Hindus also revere the site and it is a Hindu monk, Arup Brahmachari, who is leading a campaign to expose the wrongdoing. “I am not fighting as a Hindu, I am fighting because I love God,” he said. “Buddha was a son of God, and someone is misbehaving with his property.”  Many Hindus accept Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu. The temple land has been owned by a nearby Hindu monastery for centuries, and the temple is managed by a committee where Hindus retain a majority over Buddhists. But representatives of both religions stand accused.
Charges have been brought against the powerful former secretary of the Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee, a Hindu, as well as the committee’s former public relations officer and the former Buddhist chief priest of the temple.  A police report obtained by Reuters accuses the three men of “nefarious activities” and asks for their private wealth to be investigated.  Witnesses questioned by police said the priest had ordered an employee to cut off “substantial parts” of the tree and take them to his home. The trio were also accused of selling off fallen leaves to pilgrims and pocketing the proceeds….
“They sent the branch to Thailand, and sold it for 6 crore (60 million) rupees ($1.5 million),” he [Brahmachari] said, adding he had been beaten up twice and had received several death threats since starting his campaign.  The government, he said, was simply not interested. “Nobody is listening. I am fed up of writing letters.” But he is not alone in his anger, joined by Buddhist priests running many of the other temples and monasteries which have sprung up in Bodh Gaya.  Although its accounts are audited, the priests complain the temple does nothing to support local schools and hospitals, despite having a substantial income.
“Money is coming in, but where the money is going nobody knows,” said Bhante Pragyadeep, treasurer of the Buddhist Monks Association of India.  District magistrate Jitendra Srivastava has been running the temple committee since the scandal surfaced and the last committee’s term expired. “All secretaries have been embroiled in controversy,” he said. “It is very unfortunate.”…

—– Monk Indicted For Document Forgery (Kim Tae-jong/The Korea Times/The Buddhist Channel; Feb 26, 2008)

SEOUL, South Korea: The prosecution Tuesday indicted without physical detention the head of a Buddhist sect for forging documents to get billions of won in government subsidies. Ven. Woonsan, head of the Taego Order of Korean Buddhism, received 6 billion won [about $4.5 million US] from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism as a subsidy for the construction of a new temple in 2005.  Prosecutors found he manipulated the sect’s bank balance to apply for the subsidy, a prosecutor said. According to the related law, the government can provide a religious leader with half of the construction costs a new building to be used for religious purposes as a subsidy.  One of the requirements for this, however, is that the religious group should be able to afford half of the construction cost with their own funds. Ven. Woonsan allegedly increased his balance to 60 billion by temporarily putting money from members of the sect into the account. He admitted putting money from sect members into the account to be eligible for the program and withdrawing it after receiving the subsidy. “It was just to meet our share in the construction cost,” an official from the sect said. “But it was just a temporary move and right after we received the subsidy, we managed to save the half of it by ourselves and put it into the account. There was no embezzlement or anything.” The Buddhist monk is also suspected of manipulating the construction budget. Prosecutors said that the total cost was estimated at around 10.2 billion won but the Buddhist sect claimed 12.3 billion won to get extra money. The official from the Buddhist sect denounced the suspicion, citing that the extra money was calculated for the construction of the interior of the new temple and other small projects.

—– Buddhist Sect, Woman Reach Settlement Over “Purification” Sex Assault By Priest (Mainichi Daily News/Religion News Blog; March 30, 2008)

CHIBA, Japan: A woman has received a 1 million yen [about $10,000 US] payout from a Buddhist priest who indecently assaulted her during what he called a “purification ritual” in a settlement mediated by the Chiba District Court. The 36-year-old woman received the cash payment from the 75-year-old former head priest of the Komeizan Saizenji Temple in Isumi, Chiba Prefecture. In return she dropped a lawsuit she had filed against the priest and the Tendai Buddhist sect to which he belongs.  “He has resigned as head priest and has repented, so we decided to come to a settlement,” the woman’s lawyer said. Tendai officials were unavailable to comment on the case. On four different occasions from December 2005 to May 2006, the old priest performed indecent acts on the woman, using the excuse of her needing to undergo purification to rid her body of eczema that was plaguing it and feeling her up. In May last year, the woman sued both the priest and the Tendai sect, seeking 7 million yen in compensation. The priest resigned on Jan. 31. The woman agreed to end her litigation against Tendai as part of the settlement.

—– Buddhist Monk “Confesses” To Rape Of British Tourist; Just The Latest Scandal In A Series (Thomas Bell/The Telegraph; Nov 19, 2008)

BATTAMBANG, Cambodia: According to police the 39-year-old victim was trembling with fear when she reached the police station to report the attack on Tuesday afternoon. The monk, 17-year-old Thorn Sophoan, was immediately arrested and defrocked. Police said that he has confessed to the crime.
“While the monk was guiding the British woman to see caves on the top of Phnom Sam Pov mountain, he raped her,” the local police chief Mey Chhengly said. The victim reportedly told the monk that she did not want a guide but he insisted on following her anyway. The attack took place in Battambang province in the north west of Cambodia.  The victim’s right leg was injured as she attempted to fight off her attacker, who also stole her money, camera and mobile telephone. Buddhist monks in Cambodia are frequently accused of sexual assaults. This week two other monks were arrested for allegedly raping two teenagers in a school classroom. In January a monk was arrested for allegedly molesting an 8-year-old French girl at the famous Angkor ruins and in August a monk was arrested and defrocked after being accused of the rape and murder of a 10-year-old child.  There is also a problem with fake monks, who police say deceive the public into giving alms or disguise themselves as holy men before committing crimes such as armed robbery.
“Buddhism educates monks to have physical, verbal and mental purity,” said Nun Nget, supreme patriarch of the Mohanikaya Buddhist sect in Cambodia. “(Such crimes) heavily affect our religion, which is why it is necessary to defrock bad monks.” Thorn Sophoan had been a monk for only a few days month before he was arrested. Many young Cambodians become monks for short periods of time without necessarily devoting their lives to the clergy. They could be briefly ordained to show gratitude to their parents, honour a dead relative, or study Buddhism.

—– Buddhist Clerics In Bangladesh Take Christians Captive (OneNewsNow; Dec 20, 2008)

DHAKA, Bangladesh: Buddhist clerics and local council officials are holding 13 newly converted Christians captive in a pagoda in a southeastern mountainous district of Bangladesh in an attempt to forcibly return them to Buddhism.  A spokesman for the Parbatta Adivasi (Hill Tract) Christian Church told Compass on condition of anonymity that “the plight of the Christians is horrifying.”  Local government council officials in Jorachuri sub-district in Rangamati district, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) southeast of Dhaka, are helping the Buddhist monks to hold the Christians against their will, he said.  “The 13 tribal Christians were taken forcefully to a pagoda on Dec. 10 to accept Buddhism against their will,” he said. “They will be kept in a pagoda for 10 days to perform the rituals to be Buddhists – their heads were shaved, and they were given yellow saffron robes to dress in.”   All the captive Christians are men between 28 and 52 years old, he said. They became Christians around four months ago at various times in the country, which has a Buddhist population of 0.7 percent. Muslims make up nearly 90 percent of the Bangladeshi population, with Hindus accounting for about 9 percent, according to government figures.   According to the source, two Buddhist clerics, Pronoyon Chakma and Jianoprio Vikku, and two local council members, Vira Chakma and Rubichandra Chakma, were behind the anti-Christian activities along with nine other Buddhist leaders.
“It’s the first time they have taken 13 Christians to the pagoda to make them Buddhist – this is how they plan to make Buddhists of all the converted Christians in that area,” he said. “The pagoda has little capacity to accommodate them; otherwise they would hold captive more than 13 people.”…
In another mountainous neighborhood in the Khaokhali area near Jorachuri, about 50 recently converted Christians have been cut off from all communications. They are barred from going to Rangamati town and are living in isolation.  “Those captors and other influential Buddhists leaders are threatening other converted Christians that they will face the same consequences as the 13 captives are facing,” the source said. “They are warning us, ‘All of you should be reconverted to Buddhism in the same way.’”…

—– Singapore Monk Shuns Middle Path For Fast Lane (Thaindian News/DPA; April 19, 2009)

Singapore’s top Buddhist monk has lived a lavish lifestyle with name branded goods and nine gold credit cards, according to a report in the Sunday Times. “We are living in a modern world,” the newspaper quoted monk Ming Yi as telling auditors and police during an investigation into a charity hospital that he had headed.
The report said Ming Yi was a high-end shopper who spent on brands like Louis Vuitton and Montblanc, and had given three supplementary credit cards to his friends including a monk based in Hong Kong.
“A lot of religious people, not only myself, are very different now,” he was reported as saying.
The 47-year old former chief executive officer of a charity-run hospital is under investigation for making an unauthorised loan of 50,000 Singapore dollars to a friend. The loan is also subject of a court case.
Ming Yi’s choice of hotels included five-star St Regis, The Regent, Four Seasons and Banyan Tree, the report said.  But he stressed to police that his profligate spending was legal, being paid for out of the red packets, or “hong bao”, a traditional Chinese way of giving gifts, he had received from devotees. “I always don’t look upon money as important,” Ming Yi said. “What I can, I spend and that’s it; what I don’t have, I don’t spend.”

Thailand - Buddha is not smiling - 2010:

In Thailand until now, to criticize the Buddhist clergy was to reap bad karma. Few dared to do so until last year when the laughable sexual antics of Phra Yantra Amaro Bikku were exposed. Probably Thailand's best-known monk, Phra Yantra counted among his 150,000 devotees cabinet ministers, princesses and an MP who swore by the curative effects of drinking the monk's urine. But it emerged last year that when Phra Yantra was supposed to be meditating in the wilderness of New Zealand, he was sneaking off to the massage parlors of Auckland. The ladies there nicknamed him "Batman" since he refused to remove his monk's robes during sex. He also made one of his followers pregnant and made love to a nun on the icy deck of a ferry going to Finland.

After Phra Yantra was defrocked and disgraced last April by the country's religious leader, the Supreme Patriarch, it set off a chain reaction of scandals that tarnished Thai Buddhism's sanctity. A venerated abbot in a northern monastery was accused of raping six hill-tribe girls, aged between 12 and 16. Next came the grisly incident in which a monk was arrested for "barbecuing" a still-born baby to extract oil for love potions. Then, another monk was charged with raping a 14-year-old girl; during his first assault he recorded her cries and tried to use the tape to blackmail her into having sex with him again. Most recently, six monks were charged with murdering a fellow monk. Some Thais are repelled by the avidity with which the media has revealed the clergy's seamy side, while reformers claim that it is time to cleanse the monasteries.

Belatedly, the Thai Buddhist clergy is realising that monks can no longer stand aloof from samsara, the Buddhist term for worldly cravings. For centuries, the Buddhist laity in Thailand have pretended that monastic life was pure and simple, above reproach. But the proof otherwise cannot be ignored. Some monasteries have opened up drug detoxification centres. The Supreme Patriarch has also set up a new school at which senior abbots can be taught how to reform errant monks.

This has all come too late for the young Cheshire woman who went to Kanchanaburi's caves for a glimpse of Buddhism's gentle promise. When Miss Masheder did not return to Cheshire in time for Christmas, her parents, Stuart and Jackie, both 49, flew to Thailand to search for her. Desperate, they looked everywhere, stopping sun-bathers in the Thai beach resorts to show them a photograph of their missing daughter. Their last snapshot of her was taken a few days before she was murdered, while she was enjoying an elephant- trek in the jungles of Chiang Mai. The Masheders also placed photographs of Jo in the Thai newspapers, and the woman's friend - the English teacher she refers to in her diary - recognised it and called the police. They found her hired bicycle still parked at Yodchart's monastery. A search of the monastery's rooms and the temple grounds turned up her charred passport, diary and air ticket back home.

Cat Banned From Visiting Buddhist Bank Robber In Jail
(Allan Hall/The Telegraph; Nov 3)

       Peter Keonig, 46, is serving five-years for armed robberies in Werl, Germany. He went to court this week demanding the right for his cat Gisela to be allowed to visit him in jail “because she is my dead mum”. Buddhists believe that people come back as other animals after death. He said: “I know it is mummy. She looks after me just the way she did. I need to see her like other prisoners see their wives and children.”
          But the court turned him down. “While we respect the religious freedom of individuals, the accused has not been able to furnish proof that his deceased mother has been reborn in a cat. Therefore, the request for visiting rights for the feline is rejected.”  

The court did say he would be allowed to write to the cat.

So there you go -- we are more or less just like everyone else -- what a suprise.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


One of my most precious memories of my daughter is from her childhood.  It was a cold winter’s day and I had taken her to the play ground of the school down the street from our home.  She had been cooped up for a couple days due to the cold.   We had the place to ourselves so I just sat down on a swing and told her to have fun. She turned her nose up at the swings and teeter totters and simply ran up and down the play ground her eyes half closed with a look of such happiness on her face.  I took this photo in the park the other day because  these little girls seemed to be having the same experience as my daughter had that day.

          In 2008 4,000 books were published on happiness, while a mere 50 books on the topic were released in 2000. The most popular class at Harvard University is about positive psychology, and at least 100 other universities offer similar courses. Happiness workshops for the post-collegiate set abound, and each day "life coaches" promising bliss to potential clients hang out their shingles.

   "If we were to ask the question: "What is human life’s chief concern?" one of the answers we should receive would be: "It is happiness." How to gain, how to keep, how to recover happiness, is in fact for most men at all times the secret motive of all they do, and of all they are willing to endure. The hedonistic school in ethics deduces the moral life wholly from the experiences of happiness and unhappiness which different kinds of conduct bring; and, even more in the religious life than in the moral life, happiness and unhappiness seem to be the poles round which the interest revolves. "

 From "The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature by William James, 1902"
  So what dose the science of the twenty first century know about happiness?

"Some researchers, such as David T. Lykken, have found that about 50% of one's happiness depends on one's genes, based on studying identical twins, whose happiness is 50% correlated even when growing up in different houses. About 10% to 15% is a result of various measurable life circumstances variables, such as socioeconomic status, marital status, health, income, sex and others. The remaining 40% is a combination of unknown factors and the results of actions that individuals deliberately engage in to become happier. These actions may vary between persons; extroverts, for example, may benefit from placing themselves in situations involving large amounts of human interaction. Also, exercise has been shown to increase one's level of momentary subjective well-being significantly" 

 From Psychology Today

  So there we have it the great plague of the modern age is unhappiness.  The great hunt of the modern age is the hunt for happiness.  Thousands claim to have the cure for unhappiness; billions of dollars are being spent in the quest for happiness. 

           If there is one truth I have learned about happiness and the search for happiness it is that it never what you think it is. It is not bliss and it is not the zillion things that we are all told will make us happy. I like happy people; the sexiest women are the ones that are exuding happiness. Happiness sneaks up on you and then laughs in your face. If there is one word I would use to describe happiness it would be "mystical".

            "The words "mysticism" and "mystical" are often used as terms of mere reproach, to throw at any opinion which we regard as vague and vast and sentimental, and without a base in either facts or logic. For some writers a "mystic" is any person who believes in thought-transference, or spirit-return. Employed in this way the word has little value: there are too many less ambiguous synonyms. So, to keep it useful by restricting it, I will do what I did in the case of the word "religion," and simply propose to you four marks which, when an experience has them, may justify us in calling it mystical for the purpose of the present lectures. In this way we shall save verbal disputation, and the recriminations that generally go therewith.

1. Ineffability.-- The handiest of the marks by which I classify a state of mind as mystical is negative. The subject of it immediately says that it defies expression, that no adequate report of its contents can be given in words. It follows from this that its quality must be directly experienced; it cannot be imparted or transferred to others. In this peculiarity mystical states are more like states of feeling than like states of intellect. No one can make clear to another who has never had a certain feeling, in what the quality or worth of it consists. One must have musical ears to know the value of a symphony; one must have been in love one’s self to understand a lover’s state of mind. Lacking the heart or ear, we cannot interpret the musician or the lover justly, and are even likely to consider him weak-minded or absurd. The mystic finds that most of us accord to his experiences an equally incompetent treatment.
2. Noetic quality. -- Although so similar to states of feeling, mystical states seem to those who experience them to be also states of knowledge. They are states of insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance, all inarticulate though they remain; and as a rule they carry with them a curious sense of authority for after-time.

These two characters will entitle any state to be called mystical, in the sense in which I use the word. Two other qualities are less sharply marked, but are usually found. These are:--

3. Transiency. -- Mystical states cannot be sustained for long. Except in rare instances, half an hour, or at most an hour or two, seems to be the limit beyond which they fade into the light of common day. Often, when faded, their quality can but imperfectly be reproduced in memory; but when they recur it is recognized; and from one recurrence to another it is susceptible of continuous development in what is felt as inner richness and importance.
4. Passivity. -- Although the oncoming of mystical states may be facilitated by preliminary voluntary operations, as by fixing the attention, or going through certain bodily performances, or in other ways which manuals of mysticism prescribe; yet when the characteristic sort of consciousness once has set in, the mystic feels as if his own will were in abeyance, and indeed sometimes as if he were grasped and held by a superior power. This latter peculiarity connects mystical states with certain definite phenomena of secondary or alternative personality, such as prophetic speech, automatic writing, or the mediumistic trance. When these latter conditions are well pronounced, however, there may be no recollection whatever of the phenomenon and it may have no significance for the subject’s usual inner life, to which, as it were, it makes a mere interruption. Mystical states, strictly so called, are never merely interruptive. Some memory of their content always remains, and a profound sense of their importance. They modify the inner life of the subject between the times of their recurrence. Sharp divisions in this region are, however, difficult to make, and we find all sorts of gradations and mixtures."
  From "The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature by William James, 1902"

The true mystic is the one who has and or can produce this most elusive of states we call happiness.

Here is hoping we  all find the answer to this  great mystery.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Promise of Buddhism

I was reading Brad Warner’s blog today which ended with:

“One of the people I met at Tassajara and talked to about this stuff had been involved in promoting spiritual masters before. He told me the secret was to include what he called a "promise." You have to tell folks they're gonna get something of value from coming to your talk or seminar. That's a tough one for me because I'm so steeped in the "Zen is good for nothing" tradition established by Sawaki Roshi. So maybe I'm screwed.”

           It seems Brad is dealing with the same problem many traditional Buddhist teachers have, how to pay the bills. This started me thinking about just what, if anything is it that Buddha did promise.  After a lot of looking over my books and considering all the teachings I have more or less absorbed for the last few decades I came up with a list of things that Buddhist teachers past and present seem to be saying Buddhism promises. The list is not necessarily in any specific order.

1. The promise to alleviate suffering, both in your life and in others lives. This is what I call the promise of the four noble truths and the eightfold path.

2. The Promise to provide a path to break free of the cycle of rebirth. This promise seems to be more or less meaningless in the twenty-first century as few people today, even those who claim to accept this theory, seem concerned with it.

3. The promise that everyone without exception has the potential to become a Buddha. (This may or may not be the same as promise number 4.)

4. The promise of enlightenment, of the attainment of nirvana, of becoming a perfected person. The promise of attaining spiritual fulfillment.

5. Today the promise that many of the esoteric schools are pushing and pushing hard is the promise of “Happiness”.

6. In Pure land Buddhism we must add the promise of heaven. A Pure Land you are reborn in after you die.

7. In contemporary Nichiren Buddhism we can add the promise of worldly success. Please don’t argue here I have been to the meetings and heard what is said.

                Now most ethical Zen teachers in America and in the west don’t promise any of these things. The teaching of Zen is clear “Zen is good for nothing” it makes no promises. Of course some so called Zen teachers have jumped off the reservation and started “Big Mind” groups and such and are thereby racking in the cash.
                  Many so called spiritual teachers have simply taken Buddhism and Zen, stripped off the name and cranked up the marketing and the promises and they two are reaping the rewards. Eckhart Tolle Takes basic Buddhist teachings and adds a little Christian mysticism and says he teaches the transformation of consciousness and the arising of a more enlightened humanity. Along the way he rakes in the millions.
                  In Japan Buddhism has become so stifled and shop worn that most Japanese simply say “Buddhist temples . . . are for sightseeing. They have no commitment to the modern world, and their teachings are outdated.” So literally thousands join so called new religions , loosely based on Buddhism. Kōfuku-no-Kagaku? is a new religious and spiritual movement founded in Japan in October 1986 by Ryuho Okawa. In February 2008, the official English name for the group was changed from the Romanized Japanese Kofuku-no-Kagaku to the English rendering "Happy Science". Happy fricking science … and it has thousands of followers and is raking in billions of dollars world wide.
          The research firm Marketdata estimated the "self-improvement" market in the U.S. as worth more than $9 billion in 2006 — including infomercials, mail-order catalogs, holistic institutes, books, audio cassettes, motivation-speaker seminars, the personal coaching market, weight-loss and stress-management programs. Marketdata projected that the total market size would grow to over $11 billion by 2008. Leading The pack are the spiritual leaders and gurus teaching Zen and Buddhist teachings and adding the standard self help promise :

“You Can Change Your Life!” A Program To Reinvent Yourself Start Today For A New Tomorrow. Send cash check or money order."
              Buddha was a self help guru, and a spiritual teacher of his time. People gave him gardens and parks for him to sleep and teach in and he accepted a few of these gifts. I am sure they also offered him great riches. The thing was he wouldn’t and didn’t take them. One basic element of Buddha’s teaching you simply won’t find in “Happy Science” or. “Eckhart Tolle ‘s” teachings is renunciation. Just as Christ told the rich man if he wanted to be a perfected person to sell all he had and follow him, Buddha said to renounce your lust for the wealth of this world if you want real happiness.
                As recently as last week I heard that eternal phrase repeated “I just want to be Happy.” The problem is most folks, not even most contemporary Zen teachers have come to terms with the essence of the reality of Samsara and Buddha’s teachings. Today both Buddha and Christ would be considered homeless wandering bums. As time passed and Giant Churches and Temples were built by Popes and Kings this fact seems to have become in substantial.
               To be fair many a Christian and Buddhist monk and laymen have over the years been true to this fact. But nonetheless the majority has always ignored it. The secret to this teaching of course is not to really care, one way or the other. If you teach in a giant televised internet connected Temple in front of thousands or under a tree in some park, the real transformation is that you really don’t care. That’s the trick, and it is a hard one.
             Buddha said to live without hate among the hateful, live without domination of the passions among those who are dominated by the passions, Live without yearning for sensual pleasures among those who yearn for sensual pleasures, live without being impeded by the Three Poisons of craving, anger and ignorance. He taught that we must give up thoughts of winning or losing. Happiness is accomplished by subjugating the passions and to try and not buddy up with the foolish but rather to hang out with the wise and to accept our Karma with the simple courage that all these things bring.
                   He said he knew a path to follow that would help us lower the pain level and make life easier to bear. But he didn’t even Promise it would work for everyone really. From my years of study I believe he made no promises he said simply “try this and see if it works for you.” I can see him as a man watching idiots jumping off a cliff day after day, and one day saying to them I found a path along the cliff face, give it a try.  This is  very helpful information, not a promise.
                  The reason why there are billions of dollars to be made in making spiritual promises is because so many people are suffering in spirit and this suffering can not be eased by material things. No new electronic gizmo is going to ease this pain and no amount of sex, drugs, and rock and roll will cure it. Those that are suffering want to believe someone out there can make it stop. The sad thing is they will pay millions to hear the promises, but almost never to hear the simple truth. There simply is no money to be made in teaching people the truth.
         So all you ethical Zen teachers out there must follow the Buddhist tradition that takes the form of accepting one’s karma. The odds are you are going to be poor, or your going to succumb to the self delusion that any means of seduction used to lead people toward virtue is acceptable. Many Buddhist teachers and schools have given up and are making those wonderful promises of happiness, enlightenment worldly prosperity, a utopian society, worldly wealth and a heaven or “pure land” after death. But in the end of course the choice and the fruits of that karma are all yours to make and have.

I don’t know why, but I seem to smell sulfur and brimestone in the room, or is it just my imagination.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"Everything flows”

          I was sitting in a bar in Assos , I think it was the summer of 472 BC. , they had just completed the temple of Athena up on the hill above the city and everyone was celebrating. Assos was the major port and trade city of Mysia , so every body that was anybody was there for the opening of the Temple.
          I usually don’t pay attention to arguments in bars but it was Greece and you know how they love to argue. There was this little guy named Heraclitus of Ephesus, who had had a few and was waxing morose about the nature of the world. He stood up at his table and shouted Ta Panta rhei,! "Everything flows”. We all laughed as we thought it was his cute way of ordering another beer. But you know these dam Greeks..
           The guy just can’t shut up his focus shifts continually between two perspectives – the objective and everlasting processes of nature on the one hand and ordinary human beliefs and values on the other. He challenges everyone in the bar to come to terms, theoretically and practically, with the fact that they are living in a world 'that no god or human has made', a world he describes as 'an ever-living fire kindling in measures and going out in measures'. His great truth he claims is that 'All things are one', but this unity, far from excluding difference, opposition and change, actually depends on them, since the universe is in a continuous state of dynamic equilibrium. Day and night, up and down, living and dying, heating and cooling – such pairings of apparent opposites all conform to the everlastingly rational formula (logos) that unity consists of opposites; remove day, and night goes too, just as a river will lose its identity if it ceases to flow. He then shouts at the top of his lungs, "You cannot step twice into the same river!”
           Just then a tall lanky looking guy with a turban stands up, I think he said his name was Siddhartha Gautama and grabs this guy Heraclitus by the toga and starts shouting about how Heraclitus was ripping off his stuff and how there were copyright laws and such. Heraclitus takes a swing at the guy and I find myself in a bar fight in the only place in the world were a couple of drunk philosophers could cause a riot. Just as its getting good this guy Ananda who was drinking with the tall guy jumps up and breaks up the fight just after the guy from up north lands a sound one on Heraclitus’s jaw.
           Times being what they were I decided to take the guy from Nepal’s case and off we go to see the magistrate. All in all I think I did a good job, in the end the only thing left published by Heraclitus and his work consisted of little more than 100 epigrammatic sentences. Mean while I got his cousin, we decide on the pen name “Buddha“ for the tall guy,  Ananda unlimited publishing rights for the next 2500 years. Not Bad for a country lawyer if I do say so myself.

Heraclitus of Ephesus
Greek Philosopher   540–480  BC
(Asia Minor)

Siddhartha Gautama
563-483 BC
Lumbini in the small kingdom or principality of Kapilvastu,
both of which are in modern day Nepal

Hay, it could happen...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ancient Wisdom

                    When I was about six years old I visited my great aunt on her place in Mississippi. Her name was Nora and she lived in an old colonial mansion set off of the side of the road in rural Tippah County , about 10 miles out from the small town of Ripley Mississippi. She was a self made women who had made her small fortune by being the only trained hair dresser in the county for many years. I was told that in the 1920’s women would ride all day in a wagon just to come and have her “do” their hair. For me her home was like a fantasy land. She had horses and cows, chickens and turkeys that just wandered between the giant oaks around her house. She had rabbits in hutch’s by the well house and out by the tumbled down slave cabins behind the mansion she had half a dozen bee hives. She loved flowers and had the front of the mansion converted into a hot house so she could grow her flowers year round. I will forever remember her wonderful humor and almost pixie like laughter. She lived to be ninety nine, I remember my father throwing a fit when she sold the place at 60, giving the buyer a 20 year mortgage which she herself financed, and she collected every payment.
        But there was something in her home that baffled and bewildered me. I was lead into a small room, little more than 20 feet square. I remember the room was hot and humid almost like a steam room. There in that room lay an old man in a small caste iron bed. His hair was solid white and his face was brown and cracked almost like old saddle leather. I remember him reaching out to me with hands with long emaciated fingers and stroking me on my head. Frankly it was very scary.
         My Aunt told me to say hello to my great grand father. This I was told was my father’s grand father. His face was chiseled and his nose looked like a bird’s beak but despite that I could see my dad in his face. I had never met a great grand father, didn’t know until that day I had one still living. For that matter I had never met my father’s father, I would not meet him until I was sixteen years old. He had abandoned my father and his mother during the great depression and no one knew were he was until he was located by my uncle years later.
        I spent a few minutes letting my great grandfather talk to me and stroke my head; I have no idea what he said I was too freaked out to hear him. He died a few weeks later and I never saw him again. I have one small ancient picture of him feeding chickens when he was about the age I am now.
         I followed Nora from that sick room and its oppressive air into her large bright kitchen. She put on an apron and started working on making us all supper. My Great grand father she told me was a Choctaw Indian. He had been collected up by the Yankee soldiers when he was a boy and put on a wagon for what was to become known as the “Trail of Tears”, President Andrew Jackson’s forcible relocation of the Indian tribes of the south east. He had stolen a horse somewhere along the way and escaped back into the depths of the Mississippi woods. He had changed his name to White so he would be seen as an American. I was told this was a family secret as grand dad had killed a guard during his escape. It was as if they really believed that should the secret get out Yankee soldiers might bang down her door and take the old man off to the gallows.
          I asked about my grandfather. She said he was a brutal man who would beat my father unmercifully. My aunt told me once she had had to use hot towels to separate the cloth of my father’s shirt from his back were my grandfather had beaten my dad so badly stripes of the shirt were embedded in his back. He had run off and left his wife and children to starve to death during the depression. Dam! I never looked at my father after that in quit the same way I had before.
          What you may ask has any of this to do with Zen. For me Zen is ultimately a personal event. While Zen transcends here and now it is still embedded in all the things that we have experienced and are still experiencing as we sit. My father married a red head of Scots descent. My pale skin and shining red hair have always seemed to be a wall between myself and my father and his family history. He looked every bit an American native. His skin was dark and his hair jet black, his cheek bones were high and pronounced he could have walked among his ancestors without comment. I can not.
         In 1831 the Choctaw were the first of the five “civilized Indian tribes” to be removed from the Deep South, and they became the model for all other removals. They were the first Native Americans to walk the Trail of Tears. The process of removal continued until 1838. This means that Great Grand dad was in serious peril for most of his young life probably lived in fear for most of his youth. I can not even begin to understand what his life must have been like. I wonder if his pain was somehow transferred to his son and caused him to be what he was. What part of that history had made my Grandfather a monster and his sister Nora a fountain of love and compassion? I marvel at my father’s loving kindness to me considering his experiences with his own father.
         Zen says there is no me as we would normally understand that word. But I have found as I sit facing the wall that what we call emptiness is in fact complete wholeness. Being empty is my connecting with that sick old man in that room. It makes me party to all the ancient wisdom of his people and part of his pain and his joy. He and I may walk together and share what is timeless.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"All You Zombies." or " Daigo"

Those who know do not speak;
Those who speak do not know.

Then it is only fair to assume you, Loa-tzu
Do not know. – Togen

                              On the Great Realization
                                  Dogen - Shobogenzo

               In this essay Dogen used the symbol  “go” which could mean ”realization” or ‘enlightenment’ or ‘awakening’ or in Japanese satori, or even kenshō usually translated as ‘the encountering of one’s True Nature’.

                     "The inborn abilities of human beings are of many kinds. For instance, there are those who innately know what life really is. Once born, they free themselves from the sufferings and delusions of living. That is, through their own bodily existence they thoroughly master what life really is, beginning, middle, and end. And there are those who realize the Truth through learning. They undertake study and ultimately master themselves. In other words, they thoroughly exhaust the skin and flesh, bones and marrow of learning. And there are those who know what Buddha is. They go beyond those who realize the Truth through living and those who realize the Truth through learning. They transcend the bounds of self and other, are unbounded in the here and now, and are beyond having opinions when it comes to knowing self and other. That is to say, they have a knowledge that has no teacher. They are not dependent on a good spiritual friend, nor on Scriptural writings, nor on the nature of things, nor on external forms; they do not try to open up and turn themselves around, nor do they try to be interdependent with others; rather, they are completely transparent, with nothing hidden. Of these various types, do not conclude that one is smart and another dull. Each type fully manifests the merits from their training.

                 As a consequence, you would do well to explore through your training whether there are any beings, sentient or non-sentient, who cannot come to know the Truth simply by living their daily life. Any who have come to know the Truth through living life will have come to realize that Truth as the result of their living an everyday life. Once they have awakened to the Truth, they will reveal It in their everyday lives as they do their training and practice throughout their lives. Thus, the Buddhas and Ancestors, who are already Trainers and Tamers of Human Beings, have come to be called ‘Those who have fully realized what life really is’ because They have fully grasped what realization means. It will be your realization of what life is that leads you to partake of the great realization, because it will manifest from your study of Their realization. "

          What a nice word "training" is.. what a nice phrase "the Buddha’s and Ancestors, who are already Trainers and Tamers of Human Beings"  It is a simple image of what a student of a teacher needs for his mind from his friend, yet we seldom see it, we ride the wild horse of body and mind and it carries us so far from home and into darkness. -Togen
     " Kegon Kyūjō was a Dharma heir of Tōzan. Kyūjō was his personal name. A monk once asked him, “What is it like when a person who has experienced the great realization returns to being deluded?”
         The Master replied, “A broken mirror does not shed its light again: it would be difficult for a fallen blossom to climb back up on the tree.”

      Tears, it is like tears in the rain. sweet monk, just tears in the rain. --Togen