Thursday, September 26, 2013

Buddhism, Layman vs. Monk

                    Layman vs. Monk

In the West we are experiencing a new renaissance in Buddhism. There are now more Buddhist centers and Zen centers than ever before. Each center seems to have its own special spin on the practice and the teachings. There is nothing wrong with this and in fact you can see as you trace the history of Buddhism that this is been true for centuries. As Buddhism is a living organic thing that adapts itself to the people and the needs of the people wherever it goes.
     God knows that wherever humans gather there are always differences of opinion and conflict over just about any activity that they attempt. One of the issues that has followed Buddhism from the very beginning was the issue of laymen versus monk. The traditional view of Buddhism is that of the monk, the ascetic who has renounced the world, owns no property and depends upon the offerings of others. In Japan there was a divergence that led to the creation of Buddhist priests. In Zen we have both monks/nuns and priests and laymen.
     This issue of whether or not a layman can in fact truly practice Buddhism led to perhaps one of the biggest schisms in Buddhism. Most scholars believe that Mahayana Buddhism came into being as Buddhism reached out to society and the layman practitioner.  The concept of the bodhisattva itself is linked with the schism. This question of whether or not a layman can truly practice still haunts Buddhism today.  The Vimalakīrti Sūtra is perhaps one of the first sutras that focused on a layman’s power to awaken despite his continuing functioning in the world.
      We see this in Zen quite a lot as more and more focus is placed upon robes and the shaving of heads and the monastic approach to Buddhism. I have practiced Buddhism for many many years but it was just the other night that something occurred to me that should’ve occurred to me 20 years ago. The question is who did Buddha teach for, who was his target audience. Many versions of his first sermon give the impression that it was aimed simply at a group of ascetics that he had formally associated with in order to convince them of his awakening.
     All the histories of Buddha show him gathering a Sangha of monks about himself and then traveling the countryside and teaching wherever he stopped to rest. This is certainly accepted as a fact by every school of Buddhism. It’s also accepted by virtually every school of Buddhism what his first sermon was. Some call this the first turning of the wheel, others simply referred to it as the four noble truths and the eightfold path. In any case I have yet to run across school of Buddhism that does not accept the four noble truths and the eightfold Noble path as the core teaching of the Buddha. This is accepted by Mahayana it’s accepted by Theravada it’s accepted by the Tibetans and the Zen masters it is the core teaching of the Buddha.

   Having said this I would call your attention to number five in the eightfold path.

5. Samma-Ajiva — Proper Livelihood. Also called right livelihood. This is a livelihood based on correct action the ethical principal of non-exploitation.

      This was from his first teaching this was one of the eight most important things that he taught on that first day to those that were there at vulture Peak.  And I think it’s about time that we recognized that fact.

      Not because it’s the basis of an ethical society, which it is, but because it clearly shows his target audience. In this one branch of the path to awakening the Buddha revealed that his teaching from the very beginning was not just meant for monks or ascetics. It is clear that he was talking to people who work for a living that people who get up in the morning and support their families and live in the real world were one of his major concerns.
     If this that were not true number five would expressly state that in order to awaken one must become a nun or a monk or a priest to reach awakening. If this were truly a call to become an ascetic that’s what he would’ve said. But what he did say was to find an ethical meanings of living within society. In modern English we can simply translate that into finding a job you can live with. We could list 1 million jobs that you should consider  1 million more you shouldn’t if you’re going to try to follow the Buddhist path. I think that would be useless.
     But what I think everyone should see is that the Buddha’s first teaching the core of Buddhism was not aimed at asceticism it was aimed at people who work for a living and that his call was not a call to renounce the world but to find a way to live in the world that was copacetic and harmonious with his other teachings. So what did he teach, he taught the great compassion and the great love and the great forgiveness. And at no time did he think that you had to drop all your possessions into the middle of a lake and live in a cave to find this love and compassion and this forgiveness.

      My conclusion here is simple you don’t have to be a monk you don’t have to be a nun or even a priest to follow the path of the Buddha from its beginning to it’s end. You don’t need to leave your family behind or shave your head to awaken.

     I watched as Westerners have tried to emulate the Buddhism of the East. They wear robes shave their heads give up the pleasures of the world and even condemn each other for having a sense of humor or enjoying the path. It seems like a sad thing as we project on each other what we think a true Buddhist should be. Zen centers turn in to  monasteries, husbands and wives are told that they can’t enjoy each other anymore. This is absurdity and was never what the Buddha intended even from the beginning. So I would suggest that even if you love your robes and you think you look cool in them you should consider the teachings of the Buddha the core of Buddhism not the wardrobe or the self-inflicted pain of the ascetic. Buddha said follow the middle way, that too was in his first sermon. I’ve included an English translation of his first sermon for those of you that would like to review it again. I myself learned just the other day that you can get so far away from that first sermon you don’t even remember what it said in total.


The Buddha's First Sermon

These two extremes, friends, are not to be practiced
by one who has gone forth from the world.
What are the two?

That joined with the passions and luxury---
low, vulgar, common, ignoble, and useless,
and that joined with self-torture---
painful, ignoble, and useless.

Avoiding these two extremes the one who has thus come
has gained the enlightenment of the middle path,
which produces insight and knowledge,
and leads to peace, wisdom, enlightenment, and nirvana.

And what, friends, is the middle path, by which
the one who has thus come has gained enlightenment,
which produces knowledge and insight,
and leads to peace, wisdom, enlightenment, and nirvana?

This is the noble eightfold way, namely,
correct understanding, correct intention,
correct speech, correct action, correct livelihood,
correct attention, correct concentration,
and correct meditation.

This, friends, is the middle path, by which
the one who has thus come has gained enlightenment,
which produces insight and knowledge,
and leads to peace, wisdom, enlightenment, and nirvana.

Now this, friends, is the noble truth of pain:
birth is painful; old age is painful;
sickness is painful; death is painful;
sorrow, lamentation, dejection, and despair are painful.
Contact with unpleasant things is painful;
not getting what one wishes is painful.
In short the five groups of grasping are painful.

Now this, friends, is the noble truth of the cause of pain:
the craving, which leads to rebirth,
combined with pleasure and lust,
finding pleasure here and there,
namely the craving for passion,
the craving for existence,
and the craving for non-existence.

Now this, friends, is the noble truth
of the cessation of pain:
the cessation without a remainder of craving,
the abandonment, forsaking, release, and non-attachment.

Now this, friends , is the noble truth
of the way that leads to the cessation of pain:
this is the noble eightfold way, namely,
correct understanding, correct intention,
correct speech, correct action, correct livelihood,
correct attention, correct concentration,
and correct meditation.

"This is the noble truth of pain":
Thus, friends, among doctrines unheard before,
in me insight, wisdom, knowledge, and light arose.

"This noble truth of pain must be comprehended."
Thus, friends, among doctrines unheard before,
in me insight, wisdom, knowledge, and light arose.

"It has been comprehended."
Thus, friends, among doctrines unheard before,
in me insight, wisdom, knowledge, and light arose.

"This is the noble truth of the cause of pain":
Thus, friends, among doctrines unheard before,
in me insight, wisdom, knowledge, and light arose.

"The cause of pain must be abandoned."
Thus, friends, among doctrines unheard before,
in me insight, wisdom, knowledge, and light arose.

"It has been abandoned."
Thus, friends, among doctrines unheard before,
in me insight, wisdom, knowledge, and light arose.

"This is the noble truth of the cessation of pain":
Thus, friends, among doctrines unheard before,
in me insight, wisdom, knowledge, and light arose.

"The cessation of pain must be realized."
Thus, friends, among doctrines unheard before,
in me insight, wisdom, knowledge, and light arose.

"It has been realized."
Thus, friends, among doctrines unheard before,
in me insight, wisdom, knowledge, and light arose.

"This is the noble truth
of the way that leads to the cessation of pain":
Thus, friends, among doctrines unheard before,
in me insight, wisdom, knowledge, and light arose.

"The way must be practiced."
Thus, friends, among doctrines unheard before,
in me insight, wisdom, knowledge, and light arose.

"It has been practiced."
Thus, friends, among doctrines unheard before,
in me insight, wisdom, knowledge, and light arose.

As long as in these four noble truths
my due knowledge and insight
with the three sections and twelve divisions
was not well purified, even so long, friends,
in the world with its gods, Mara, Brahma,
its beings with ascetics, priests, gods, and men,
I had not attained the highest complete enlightenment.
This I recognized.

And when, friends, in these four noble truths
my due knowledge and insight
with its three sections and twelve divisions
was well purified, then friends,
in the world with its gods, Mara, Brahma,
its beings with ascetics, priests, gods, and men,
I had attained the highest complete enlightenment.
This I recognized.

Knowledge arose in me;
insight arose that the release of my mind is unshakable:
this is my last existence;
now there is no rebirth.





Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Buddhist Morality, in an immoral world.

     I hear a lot of discussion about good and evil during Dharma talks and even simply around the Zendo. It has become very stylish in the United States among Zen Buddhist to quote Zen scriptures and sayings on morality. The essence of which is that since we see the world as non-dualistic good and evil are the same and merge into one. In my humble opinion this is what comes from people reading without comprehension.
     The fundamental Buddhist morality is summarized in the Dhammapada by Shakamuni in a simple Triplett:

Not to do any evil’

cultivate good,

to purify one’s mind.

        It is a simple admonition that even a child can understand. But of course we’re not children and so we never tire of trying to muddle things up with analysis. What is good we say, what is bad we say. How can these opposing ideas exist in a non-dualistic mind. The answer is of course they can’t. And the confusing part of this is trying to overlay our Western education on to an eastern idea.

      One of the underlying concepts of Buddhism is that we are all deluded. We drift in the world of birth, death, and rebirth propelled by the karma generated by our delusions. I submit to you that delusions are not real and therefore their existence is itself a delusion. On the other hand good or at least those things we call good are called good because they reflect reality. To say we have Buddha nature is to say that we are by nature good, when we fight our true nature we are unhappy and we suffer and cause others to suffer. Fighting your true nature is the result of delusion. All the things we call bad almost universally result in suffering. This suffering is generated by the unreal and untrue nature of the thoughts words and deeds caused by delusion.

     Simply put to do good is to conform to reality to do bad to fight reality and come into conflict with it. The result of this conflict is always affliction and suffering. So it is a misunderstanding of the unity of reality to say that good and bad don’t exist. It is evil that doesn’t exist despite its ability to create results which create suffering and harm, it’s underlying nature is delusion. Good has its basic nature firmly seated in reality and thus it is both real and beneficial.

     When Buddha first turned  the wheel of Dharma he spoke of suffering. The eightfold path is a path away from delusion toward reality toward your true self and your true nature. When you’re in conformity with your true nature and the real world you and those around you suffer less. And that is a very good definition of good.

      I know there are Buddhist teachers that are running around teaching complete and total "in action" and "lack of thought" or no mind in order to stop generating karma. This is itself a delusion. Compassion is that emotion which occurs when our love for all sentient beings is confronted by their suffering. The overwhelming desire to end the suffering of others is generated within the bodhi mind. Unless these things occur there can be no awakening and there can be no enlightenment.

     If you want to know if an action is good or bad simply follow the advice Buddha gave to his son. Determine if this action will cause you or others to suffer. If it does cause suffering it is not a good thing. When we analyze our thoughts our words and our actions: we need simply consider the following: is this thought speech or action in conformity with that which leads to yourself and others being in a state of:

1. Firm: resolute, stable, unmoving, undistracted.

2. Pure and clean: unstained, immaculate, bright.

3. Clear and free: unrestricted, free, exalted, boundless.

4. Fit for work: pliant, light, fluent, patient.

5. Calm and content: relaxed, serene, satisfied.

      Buddhist morality is really very simple, it doesn’t rely on a list of do’s and don’ts, it is not enforced by a vengeful God. It simply reflects the nature of reality.Karma and its fruits are simply words that describe cause-and-effect as it relates to morality. It’s not complex and it’s not hocus-pocus. It is simply a way to suffer less and cause others to suffer less. Sometimes we call this skillful means other times we call it common sense. In any case do as much good as you can as little evil as you can and purify your mind so you can distinguish between the two.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tathagata , say what?

            The term tathagata seems to cause a lot of confusion when it comes up during ceremonies and teachings. It seems to be an alternative pronoun that the Buddha used and is seen often when referring to the Buddha. So I thought I would just take a moment to add a little reference for my friends and neighbors in the Sangha.

A tathagata is often said to be "one who has thus gone" (tathā-gata) or "one who has thus come" (tathā-āgata). This is interpreted as signifying that the Tathagata is beyond all coming and going.
          Frankly to most of us that definition is more or less useless. I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard that said and then seeing people nodding as if they understood what the heck it meant and then the conversation moves on. But clearly most of us in the West could  use a little more clarity to really understand what the word means.

    A tathagata then is one who goes (proceeds) in accord with reality (tatha [ta], that is comprehends (gata) the way things are (tatha[ta]. Therefore he or she is fully awake and sees the world as it is.
    The Buddha is quoted on numerous occasions in the Pali Canon as referring to himself as the Tathagata instead of using the pronouns me, I or myself. This may be meant to emphasize by implication that the teaching is uttered by one who has transcended the human condition, one beyond the otherwise endless cycle of rebirth and death, i.e. beyond suffering.

    At some point people will have to take the time to learn about the concept of the cycle of rebirth and death and Buddha's four noble truths to really get the gist of this.

     Buddha was walking along the road after he woke up or what some people called his enlightenment and he encountered a man on the road. His demeanor was such that the man asked him  who or what he was, since clearly there was something about the man that made him stand out from the rest of the people that this fellow had ever met. He asked him if he was a God or a diva and Buddha said no. He simply said I’m awake. Thus A tathagata.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Snow Flakes


     I suppose not all folks over the years have come to a point were their mind observes that having compassion for beings that have no intrinsic reality is not much different than having compassion for snow flakes, each beautiful and unique and each doomed to melt away in the light of the sun. I am there now.

       What can I do for a snow flake, in my great compassion for all sentient beings, in what way could I be of benefit to one. Now vapor, now crystal, now a unique individual, now water and then vapor. Each snow flake remade, but never the same, time and again.

      I see each Flake coming into being only when conditions are just as they need to be, each melting as those conditions change. I sit deeply aware of snow flakes, profoundly moved to help, but when I look at my own body, reach out my hand I just see another melting snow flake.

           So here I sit, deeply aware of snow flakes.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The mythology of the Buddhist robe.

Togen's Zen Robe for 21st Century
  Whether I like it or not it seems today that one of the big issues in the West is the Buddhist robe. There is an ongoing spreading of old myths about the Buddhist robe, it’s origin and its significance. So I would like it if we all took a step back and considered some facts of history. 
   The first thing I would like to point out is that there were no representations and art of Buddha as a person until almost 400 years after his death. The fact is Buddhist had been instructed while Buddha was still alive not to make statues and pictures of him so that people would not be tempted to worship him as if he was some sort of man God. It wasn’t until almost the beginning of the second century CE that some pictures of him in human form began to appear. Until that time the Buddha was represented usually with symbols such as the Buddha's footprints.  We know that it was probably  not until the days of Alexander and the spread of Greek culture that statues of Buddha began to appear.
   We also know that even the first sutras were not written down until 200 years after Buddha had died. So even descriptions of the his clothing described in early sutras many of which are quite fantastic and fanciful are not based on any actual knowledge of what he wore. The fact is Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist he was a Hindu holy man. I recently read a blog by a nice lady that seems to think that Hindu holy men today wear something resembling the present day Buddhist robe.
     One thing we can be pretty certain of is what Hindu holy men wear now is pretty much what Hindu holy men wore than. Some Hindu holy men wear saffron robes and holy beads but these robes don’t look like Buddhist monk robes. The fact is that the majority of Hindu holy men wear a loincloth and that’s about it. Some wear a loincloth and a gold chain or gold bracelet. Many like the Nagas where nothing at all. You can get on the Internet and Google pictures of Hindu holy men and you get a clear idea of the way an ascetic in India dresses now and in Buddha's life time. If you can find a picture of a Hindu monk wearing a Kashaya robe you’ve done better than I ever have.
     I think anyone who gave the question any serious thought and was familiar with Buddhist history would probably guess as I am about to do that the first codified Buddhist robes were probably introduced by Ashoka Maurya (304–232 BCE) commonly known as Ashoka and also as Ashoka the Great, he was an Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from ca. 269 BCE to 232 BCE. Until Ashoka converted to Buddhism it was more or less a very small sect that primarily existed in local areas in northeastern India and what would now be Nepal. When the Ashoka converted he ruled the entire Indian subcontinent from north to south. He introduced many rules both for Buddhist and for laypeople based on Buddhism. In fact he insisted that the entire Indian subcontinent try to live by Buddhist values. Although he was a devout Buddhist he did not insist that anyone adopted Buddhism unless he or she wanted to.
     What is known is that at one point he was such a wonderful patron of Buddhist monks that many people were starting to pretend that they were Buddhist monks. And he introduced a white robe that these fakers when found had to wear from then on. I think it was probably during this period that Ashoka probably codified the Buddhist robe as its found in southern India and Sri Lanka today. He was in fact personally  responsible for transferring Buddhism to Sri Lanka where the earliest forms of Buddhism were preserved when Buddhism was more or less wiped out on the Indian subcontinent. I think it’s very likely that this Buddhist robe probably introduced by him accompanied the wandering monks that went up and down the silk Road and into China in later years.
   So this wonderful story about Ananda designing the present robe from rice paddies  is probably as likely as the stories of Buddha and 500 of his followers flying around the countryside visiting various kings. Both stories are about as likely. I seriously doubt that two young princes from far northern and northeastern India would have been so overcome with Rice paddies that they would have designed robes based on them.

     Buddhism is over 2500 years old and it has traveled and changed and modified itself with each culture that it has encountered over those 2500 years. The fact is the three-piece robe like most things in Buddhism has been surrounded by myth and mythology for centuries. Few people probably know the arcane symbolism of the Mala that they wear on their wrists or even that a proper one must have three cords not just one if it’s to be a real Mala. The fact is Buddhist monks have been as creative as humans can get and have used robes and Mala's as teaching tools over the years. But like all religious artifacts their true meaning is always as vast and  as miniscule as the minds and faith of the person wearing them.
      If you gather together Buddhists monks and nuns and priests from all over the world you will find a wide variety of robes and beads and symbols. They’ll be colors of red and saffron of black and brown and various mixtures of the same. There are ceremonies in some countries were laypeople in order to get merit contribute cloth for the making of their local monks robes. In some countries certain schools of Buddhism forbade monks and priests from making their own robes simply because they need the income from selling them to them. An example of this is the main Soto school in Japan.
      I’m sure that many monks have sown their own robes, just as I’m sure that many monks robes are sown by their mothers, this after all in most Buddhist countries gives laypeople merit. Most Westerners haven’t got a clue what merit is in Buddhism so they have no idea why this would be so. But the fact is in most countries helping a Buddhist monk is considered to generate good karma for the helper. This good karma is called merit. So in many countries filled full of native Buddhist and not Johnny-come-lately’s would think sewing his own robe would be  a selfish act denying someone the merit they would accrue in doing this unselfish act for the monk.
     I’ve been a Buddhist for about 30 years maybe longer and I have in the last five years seen this robe thing expand exponentially full of myth and good old-fashioned BS. Personally I think robes may be a thing of the past that we could very well do without in the 21st century. Maybe Zen Buddhist priest should all carry iron rods with five rings attached and pound them on the ground as they walk along the road as they used to do in Japan. But I think they would look quite silly today. Sometimes I think that people come to Buddhism simply because they want to put on robes and seem all mystical and stuff. I myself always feel a little silly wearing a full robe and would much prefer a black suit and a black turtleneck. But that’s just me.
     But the one thing that I am sure of is that Buddha said not to get too attached to things and I’m fairly sure that a robe is a thing. It seems to me robes today are being used to make people feel important, to provide income for those who teach the mysticism of the robe, and to make people feel important and quite frankly lord it over other people. Somehow I don’t think this is what Buddha had in mind. 
     I’m going to suggest that if you really want to wear the original Buddha’s robe you get yourself a loincloth. And that’s probably about it. That is what Hindu holy men have worn for 3000 years. But please don’t set up in front of a bunch of gullible people and perpetrate a bunch of BS simply to make yourself feel important and act like you might know more than you do. This isn’t the first time that Buddhist robes were used to impress the natives and instill awe in the gullible and it certainly won’t be the last. But it is the 21st century and this blog will probably be around for a while and you taking a chance it might blow your cover. 
     If you want to start a new school of Buddhism and you’re in the West go ahead. If you want to introduce new traditions go ahead and do that. But please be honest about what you’re doing with others and yourself. Lets just say these robes are a tradition. They are a tradition of our school and of Buddhism.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Doing good and sitting on the Cushion

Mummy of Huineng  Sixth and Last Patriarch of Chán Buddhism.

     Easter weekend I attended a retreat at the Nashville Zen center. One of the new disciples asked my sensei if he should continue trying to do good. Sensei’s answer was more than a bit vague. And this bothered me a lot. Essentially he replied that the answer to such questions were found on the cushion. I know this is the basic teaching of Zen and it was not an inappropriate answer. However for a young man just starting on the path it seemed to me one that may have left him confused and without guidance.
     I have been a Buddhist for over 30 years and I came to my present sensei a little over seven years ago and have studied with him ever since. I have the greatest love and respect for him. When I came to him one of the things that I expressed to him was that I was in dire need of was learning to carry what I found on the cushion with me after I got off the cushion and entered the world around me.
     I had studied hard over the years with many different teachers. I had the great honor of attending the teachings of many elder Tibetan lama’s over a 20 year period. I studied with one Rinpoche for two years studying his area of expertise which was the veneration of Mañjuśrī. But in the end I took Chenrezig or Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin) Bodhisattva as my Yidam or meditational deity. Today I still venerate Guanyin and have many statues of her in my house. I recently purchased one of her holding a child in her arms because one of her duties historically has been to protect children. It is my hope that one day I will find her pure land in my heart and mind.
     I found in the young man’s question a deep connection to the very reason that I came to my sensei all those years ago. What I have found on the cushion is that those things that we call good are real and true. And that when we act in accordance with those things and those ideas we are reflecting our true self our true Buddha nature. That those things that we call bad or evil are distortions of the truth and the result of delusions and do not reflect our true Buddha nature.
     We have all learned from thousands of years of civilization that it is almost impossible to legislate morality. We can tell young people right from wrong and punish them when they do the wrong but in the end the only true rehabilitation  is to discover your true nature. The way that we do that as Zen Buddhist is on a cushion. We make a sincere effort to find our true self without looking for it. We find it because it is there to be found. The afflictive emotions of anger and hate, greed and lust are simply smoke and pain. It’s true that we find those emotions on the cushion but the great hope is that we’ll be able to see through them. That we will be able to see that they are delusions and as insubstantial as smoke.
     The last few years of my life have been awash in personal tragedy. My dear wife and three of my children died unexpectedly in the last two years. I cannot describe to you the frustration the anger the pain that this has caused me. In order to survive this I have had to dig deep inside myself to find what is true and real in order to have something to hold onto and maintain my sanity. I do not recommend this course for anyone but as for myself it was my karma and we cannot avoid our karma we can only live through it, endure it and perhaps glean something of value from it.
     What I have learned is that life is too short to keep secrets from the young and those seeking what we older people have learned at great price.  I would have told the young man what I have learned just as I have told you in this writing what I have learned. I can see no way it can harm you or that it would harm him to know what I’ve found on the cushion and in life. If you’re not going to seek the truth about yourself on the cushion knowing my truth might encourage you to seek for your truth. If you’re the sort of person will simply say well Togen went there and saw what there was to see and I will simply take his word for it then you’re probably going to find someone else’s experience to live through anyway.
      I firmly believe that we each must find our own truth on the cushion but experience has shown me that we cannot separate what we find on the cushion from what we experience in life. There is no way to not carry what you find on the cushion with us and there is no way to sit on the cushion without caring what we have experienced in life with us on that cushion. As with most things in Zen and Buddhism what I have found is like Dorothy in Oz I never truly left home and never lost what I found on the cushion. I take it with me wherever I go night and day awake or asleep. It permeates my dreams and supports my mind when I’m awake.
     I’ve so often seen young people when they first encounter Buddhism and begin their meditations and readings become overcome with the great power of the truth they are beginning to see and feel. They suddenly want to become teachers they want to tell everyone what they found, little realizing that they have just started a lifelong voyage. So while I think you should tell what you know I wouldn’t present it as if it were some gospel from on high. I would whisper it in a soft voice just as you would with your friend when you’re trying to find where you’re going in the fog and you both might just be lost.
     You know what’s right and wrong it’s been burned into your nature. And the question of whether you should continue doing right is of course one that would only reasonably arise from the confusion that results from understanding Zen teachings. Of course you should do as much good as you can and does little harm as you can and purify your heart and mind. That’s why we recite the precepts to remind ourselves of what we already know.
     I’ve always found it fascinating that the sixth patriarch of Zen had his first awakening as he was walking down the street and heard a stranger reciting a sutra. He had never set on a cushion and I’m not sure if when he was handed the robe in the bowl of the fifth patriarch he had at that time ever set on a cushion. Yet he is the patriarch of Zen. Dogen himself revered him as a Buddha and taught upon his teachings and stood upon his shoulders. But Zen is forever woven with the threads of paradox.

       So listen for the twig that snaps and brings about a waking when you’re walking alone in the forest. Listen to the sutras and the songs of the ancient Buddha’s they might just resonate with some past lifetime and bring about your awakening. Sitting on the cushion is the skillful means we have chosen but you carry that cushion with you in your mind wherever you go. There might be a demon howling in a hollow log that only you can hear that will open your eyes one dark night. But in any case remember that you’re always on the cushion.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Buddhist gestalt

      One of the things Buddhists like to do today is feel superior to the other major world religions because so much of science seems to coincide with Buddhist teachings. Yes, we like to lord it over the others and point our fingers and say you're very unscientific. This is especially true among Zen practitioners who often pride themselves on knowing very little about Buddhism itself, practicing Zen and nothing else. Well the fact is most of the Buddhist in the world are what's called pure land  and they believe in spiritual Buddha worlds, and reincarnation. They believe a lot of that stuff that we Zen folks turn her nose up at. My favorite of course is how all those other Buddhists believe in reincarnation and we believe and rebirth. Two completely different things of course one being silly superstition and the other being modern and scientific. That's one of the wonderful things about the Internet and mass publishing its brought every kind of Buddhism together in one big crash. Hard to know what a Zen Buddhist is supposed to believe. After all Dogen constantly preached against reading those old sutras and stuff, and at the same time was one of the greatest Buddhist scholars to ever live. But that's Zen for you all that counter intuitive- intuitive stuff.
    Did you ever think what amazing times we live in? Because of the Internet worldwide television and radio virtually every worldview is now known and preached through the media. I’m feeling playful tonight so I think what I’ll do is compare and contrast two those worldviews.
     Let’s call one worldview materialism and say that it’s based on one of our newer belief systems call science. Originally of course science saw the world as one big machine and every action in it mechanical material and predictable. Around 1932 astronomers started noticing that those big things out there they called stars and galaxies weren’t behaving according to the rules. And ever since then every time they made a prediction they found that these big guys weren’t cooperating. Galaxies that should be flying apart weren't. Galaxies that should be slowing down were in fact speeding up. You can imagine how frustrating this is. Of course around the same time those crazy physicist started coming up with things like quantum theory and space-time as opposed to space and time and people started listening to a guy named Heisenberg and said that nothing was in fact predictable. What to do?
        Well after almost 80 years of becoming embarrassed by the universes' lack of cooperation astrophysicists came up with a word and that word was dark matter soon to be followed by dark energy. In fact after doing a lot of calculating over years scientists decided that 84% of the matter the universe was made out of this invisible and undetectable matter they called dark matter. Further that 73% of all the energy in the universe was this dark energy. Now to date no one can tell you what dark matter or dark energy are other than there. They can’t see it they can’t weigh it, in fact the only way they even know it exists is because of our universal friend gravity that seems to work equally well with dark or light matter and energy.
       It’s really interesting that they always seem to say that that dark matter and energy are all way out there, thats 80% of the universe remember, but none of that stuff is around here. It’s all got a be way out there where it’s safe.
      LetS call the other worldview the religious or spiritual worldview. It is of course the oldest worldview so we are all pretty familiar with it. It suggests that there is a world out there of things and places that we cannot normally see or detect. Further it suggests that there are creatures both good and bad made up of these two substances spiritual matterand  spiritual energy.
    Ever since the high priest of science started preaching and they have attacked this religious worldview because it’s mere superstition. Ever since I was born I’ve heard my science teachers and physics teachers tell me all about how silly it would be to believe in a world that you couldn’t see or detect. That believing that there could be a world other than the material world you see around you was absurd if not outright stupid.
      But now these same scientist are telling us that 83% percent of all the matter in the universe and 73% of all the energy is in fact invisible and virtually undetectable. Now less the scientist stretch their brains beyond is their natural capacity and snap their internal sense of right and wrong, and they are willing to admit that you can’t see feel taste or detect any thing that was going on in the universe but about 23% give or take a percent, all that energy and matter has got to be way out there were can’t touch them , not here and interacting with us. Unlike the matter and energy we see dark matter and energy couldn’t possibly differentiate into different wavelengths and elements, no it’s this invisible jelly, way out there beyond our galaxy and doesn’t act in anything like the matter and energy we know about.
     So suppose that 83% of the matter in the universe acted more or less the same as the 17% we can actually see and detect. And that dark energy differentiated itself and to various wavelengths say like the electromagnetic spectrum. Now I’m not saying that this is possible because I know scientist would immediately bring out the rope and start a good hanging, no I’m just saying just suppose that it did.
      I would also like to speculate that it might have some qualities that would make us extremely uncomfortable. Space and time may not react the same for them many of the rules of physics may or may not apply to dark matter and dark energy.
      If dark matter and dark energy did act this way we might even have components of our very own selves comprised of these two unseen culprits. Further there might be places to go and places to see once the material that you can see was gone that well let’s call it spooky. Or we could call it spiritual. Boy that word carries a lot of baggage doesn’t.
      So to make a long story even a bit longer maybe all this stuff about rebirth and reincarnation, souls and ghosts and even Buddha worlds might in fact dare I say it exist. It might even be possible that this universe with all its matter both dark and light might be just a bubble floating up in a beer.
     Those condescending scientists have always pointed at the spiritual and said this is just something weak people need to make themselves feel better. They have derided the concepts of God and heaven and hell as silly primitive beliefs. In other words all the spiritual stuff was this something they made up to make themselves feel better because they didn’t understand what was happening around them. Don’t you find it interesting that this seems to be exactly what these scientists are doing with dark matter and dark energy. The universe doesn’t act the way they wanted to so they make up a story to make themselves feel better. Having invented the words dark matter and dark energy they can sleep soundly in their beds at night knowing that the universe is really just a machine and all this new stuff like quantum interaction and dark matter are just things that you observe in a laboratory and don’t have nothing to do with the real world.
       In other words if you’re worried about what some rational modern person might say about your worldview if you just happen to believe there were other planes of existence and perhaps even beings like bodhisattvas that could come and go from there I say don’t let it worry you. These scientists are doing the same thing they accuse spiritual people of their just making up stories to try to explain why what they say they know doesn’t work when they look out their window up at the night sky.
      Anyway this has been fun. I always like making fun of the new religion they call science, I don’t get upset to me science is a religion it just doesn’t have a deity but then neither does Buddhism so who are we to throw stones
     Well there you go my friends if the Buddhist next to you happens to believe in Buddha worlds,   and bodhisattvas that transcend this world and shift between this and other planes of existence, don't turn your nose too far up it might rain  and you could drown .

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On Being Human

   It is very common for people to say that Zen offers you nothing. That what the Zen  experience for them personally  may accomplish is the loss of what the Tibetans call afflictive emotions. Emotions and feelings like hate anger avarice and greed. Of course the list goes on with emotions like envy and probably most important fear. When I talk to people that come to our Zendo and ask them what they want it seems like mostly they want peace. They want to still the turmoil that stirs within their souls. They want to stop being angry and fearful and petty,  because all these things hurt. All these afflictive emotions simply make us unhappy.  I think one of the things that Buddha so clearly saw was that all these terrible feelings and emotions bring us great pain and pain to the people around us. They are truly the root cause of much unhappiness.

Part of the cure for all this unhappiness is the realization of dependent arising, that is to say that all things come and go depending upon circumstances and that nothing ever stays the same. We are taught that this realization can lead us away from attachment to the things and even ideas such as our ideas of God and thus reduce our unhappiness. But insight into this fact of nature doesn’t really help unless there is an underpinning of compassion for both yourself and others. This compassion stays the hand of judgment and opens the door to forgiveness. As hard as it is to forgive others it is much harder to forgive ourselves.

 There are some things that it seems only natural to be attached to. We are attached our ideas of right and wrong and are attached to those we care and love. I think almost everyone has a deep feeling of what is just and what is unjust.  And no matter what you say these things also cause us great unhappiness. This creates a great dilemma for a man without a feeling of justice without charity and is  without compassion for others can barely be said to be a man. A man who does not love his children and weep upon their death’s has no heart and I don’t think would be capable of experiencing joy even if being able to separate himself from these attachments were possible.

I would like to think that being human means that we will suffer in this life from good cause. The clearing away the smoke of emotions that reduce our humanity, ridding ourselves of those emotions that make us small and petty is work for everyone who wants to be human. But it is clear to me that this is very hard work indeed. Even if we were to actually accomplish the eradication of all these afflictive emotions and turn to a completely rational understanding of the pain caused by loving our children caring for the poor and feeling the frustration of our own inability to do more, would we want to end the pain that these things cause. Can there really be any joy without this pain?

Growing up,  becoming mature,  waking up is a painful process in itself. It becomes clear that even for the best of us pain is the fire in which our souls must be forged. It’s simple enough to say we want to be happy and we want the Buddha to show us the way to that happiness. But a soul without turmoil is nothing more than a piece of deadwood.