Friday, November 6, 2015

Buddha said all is burning - The World is Burning - The Parable of the Burning house -

                                 Chapter 3 of the Lotus Sutra

  Thus spoke the Buddha:
            A great man had a great house.  The house, since it was old, was in a state of collapse:  the halls were lofty and precarious, the bases of the pillars crumbling and rotten, the beams and ridgepoles aslant, the stairways and landings disintegrating, the walls and partitions cracked, the clay and paint peeling off, the thatch worn thin and in disarray, the rafters and envelopes coming loose, totally misshapen, and full of assorted filth.  Kites, owls, and eagles; crows, magpies, pigeons, and doves; newts, snakes, vipers, and gribbles; centipedes and millipedes; lizards and spiders; weasels, badgers, and mice milled back and forth in a crisscross.  Places stinking of feces and urine overflowed with their filth, with may-bugs and maggots clustered on them.  Here and there and all about were ghosts and demons, poisonous insects, and other malignant birds and beasts.
            This old and decayed house belonged to one man.  The man had gone a short distance from the house when, before he had been gone very long, in the rear rooms suddenly a fire broke out, from all four sides at once, raging in flame.  The ridgepoles and beams, the rafters and pillars, shaking and cracking broke asunder and fell, while the walls and partitions collapsed.  The ghosts and demons raised their voices in a scream.  The malignant beasts and poisonous insects milled about in a panic, unable to get out.  Stinking smoke, with its foul odor, filled the place on all four sides.  In this way that house was extremely frightening, with calamities, conflagrations, and many other troubles occurring all at once.
            At that time the householder, standing outside the door, heard someone say, "Your children a while ago, in play, entered this house.  Being little and knowing nothing, they are enjoying themselves and clinging to their amusements."
            Having heard this, the great man entered the burning house in alarm, to save them from the catastrophe of burning.  He coaxed his children, explaining the many calamities:  the demons, insects, snakes, foxes and dogs.  "This is a woeful and troublesome place; how much the more so with a great fire!"
            The children, knowing nothing, though they heard their father's admonitions, were still addicted as before to their pleasures and amused themselves ceaselessly.  The great man thought to himself, "This house has not one pleasant feature, yet the children, steeped in their games, and not heeding my instructions, will surely be consumed by the fire."
            Then straightaway, intentionally devising a lie, he announced to the children, "I have various precious playthings, one for each of you, here outside the door.  For one, a goat-drawn cart.  For one, a deer-drawn cart.  For one, an ox-drawn cart.  Come out, all of you!  For your sakes I have made these carts, following the desire of your own thoughts."
            When the children heard him tell of carts such as these, racing one another, they ran out of the house, reaching an open place, far from woes and troubles.  The great man, seeing his children able to get out of the burning house, sat down and joyfully said to himself, "Now I am happy!  These children were very hard to bring into the world and raise.  Addicted to their games, they were in danger of great calamity.  But now I have saved them, enabling them to escape trouble."
            At that time the children went before their father and addressed him, saying, "We beg you to give us the three kinds of carts that your promised us a while ago, saying, 'Children, come out!  I have three kinds of carts in accordance with your wishes.'  Now is the right time.  Please give them to us!"
            The great man, being very rich, and having treasure houses filled with gold and silver, giant clam shells and agate, had a sumptuous carriage built, decked with ornaments, surrounded with handrails and shielding, with little bells hanging from all four sides and golden cords intertwined; with pearl-studded netting stretched out over the top, and gold-flowered tassels dangling here and there; with soft and fine silk and cotton made into cushions; with superbly fine mats, their value in the thousands, pure white and spotlessly clean; with great white oxen, fat, and in the prime of life, and endowed with great strength, their physical form lovely, yoked to the jeweled carriage.
            The children danced for joy, and climbing up on the carriage, they cavorted in the four directions, playing and enjoying themselves, forgetting all about the carts their father had promised them to bring them from the burning house.
            I tell you, I, too, am like this.  All the living beings, all my children, are profoundly addicted to worldly pleasure and have no wise thoughts.  The world is just like a house afire, being full of many woes most frightful, constantly marked by birth, old age, sickness, death, and cares -- fires such as these, raging without cease.  But the Buddha, having already left the burning house, is quiet and unperturbed, dwelling securely in forest and field.  Even though I teach and command, my children neither believe nor accept.  So addicted are they to their tainting desires that I, by resort to expedient means, preach the three vehicles* to them, causing them to know the woes of the world, and demonstrating and setting forth the One Vehicle (eka-yana) of illumination.
            By means of this parable, I have preached the One Buddha Vehicle.  All of you, if you can believe and accept these words, shall without exception attain to the Buddha Path! 
        Is the Buddha in the carriage himself, or is the carriage just another step on the stairway?  

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Choosing Dukkha, a look at free will and right intentions in Buddhism

          After a couple of thousand years of Buddhist scholars studying the old Scriptures and writing their own commentaries on them, there are many complex philosophies that have developed in Buddhism. A good example of this is the idea of free will and the rejection of its existence since there is no one and nothing to have a "free Will.   In  Zen and many different schools of Buddhism we are taught the concept of no self or non self. This is called anatta. But at the same time most schools of Buddhism accept the idea of karma which is essentially a subset of cause and effect in the universe.   karma is usually defined as an intentional action of the mind the body and speech. But many modern Zen Buddhist choose to look the other way on issues such as rebirth and karma.  This is because they say there is no self to generate these things . I insist that if they are going to keep  calling themselves Buddhist than they have at  some point to  go  and actually  read some of the things that Buddha taught or they are simply going to  have to stop  calling themselves “Zen Buddhist”. I believe the underlying teaching of anatta was that it was a false question,  in short on the mundane level a waste of time.  It arose as a response to the belief in a unchanging, immortal soul. But Buddhism teachings say all things are ever changing,  so there is never a you or self  in the sense of an immortal unchanging self or atman, but rather a set of aspects in constant flux. The you of yesterday is never the you of today. But this ongoing ever changing self exists comes and goes, has volition, and experiences suffering. 
    The problem with the Zen teaching on anatta or no self is that, at least in English, is that when taught in a absolutist and sophomoric level it creates  irreconcilable paradoxes that conflict with both reality and Buddhist teachings,  I’m sorry but if you’re not real stop reading this go put a plastic bag over your head hold it real tight until you quit taking up the air the rest of us need to breathe. I am so tired of pseudo-intellectual Zen Buddhist explaining to me how neither I or they exist, it is my firm desire to stand in front of each one of these male Zen zealots who say this sort of thing and  just as they finish saying it give them a good hard kick in the gonads as a simple demonstration of why I have a problem with their argument, this will also give them a very practical lesson in the expansion and contraction of perceived time.  So for the rest of this short blog I’m going to have the audacity to ask you to suspend your disbelief in yourself and accept the fact that you exist, that other people exist and despite the teaching of no self there is such a thing as  volition and free will. So this discussion requires that there be a you, that you have free will, that you are responsible for your actions , thoughts and deeds, and that there are consequences to them. So the counter argument to this blog that you don’t exist  and therefore you can’t suffer is one I’m going to ask you to take a hike with.

            The Buddha is reputed to have said: "I have taught one thing and one thing only, dukkha and the cessation of dukkha." In Sanskrit: dukkha is a Buddhist term commonly translated as "suffering", "anxiety", "stress", or "unsatisfactoriness". The principle of dukkha is one of the most important concepts in the Buddhist tradition

      Dukkha is commonly explained according to three categories:

  • The obvious physical and mental suffering associated with birth, growing old, illness and dying.
  • The anxiety or stress of trying to hold on to things that are constantly changing.
  • A basic unsatisfactoriness pervading all forms of existence, because all forms of life are changing, impermanent and without any inner core or substance.

              At this point let us take a moment to see what the very first thing Buddha preached was,  what most Buddhist called the first turning of the wheel.

The Four Noble Truths," which express the basic orientation of Buddhism: this worldly existence is fundamentally unsatisfactory, but there is a path to liberation from repeated worldly existence. The truths are as follows:

  1. The Truth of Dukkha is that all conditional phenomena and experiences are not ultimately satisfying;
  2. The Truth of the Origin of Dukkha is that craving for and clinging to what is pleasurable and aversion to what is not pleasurable result in becoming, rebirth, dissatisfaction, and redeath;
  3. The Truth of the Cessation of Dukkha is that putting an end to this craving and clinging also means that rebirth, dissatisfaction, and redeath can no longer arise;
  4. The Truth of the Path Of Liberation from Dukkha is that by following the Noble Eightfold Path—namely, behaving decently, cultivating discipline, and practicing mindfulness and meditation—an end can be put to craving, to clinging, to becoming, to rebirth, to dissatisfaction, and to redeath.

              The second aspect of the Eightfold Path of Buddhism is Right Intention or Right Thought, or samma sankappa in Pali. Right View and Right Intention together are the "Wisdom Path," the parts of the path that cultivate wisdom (prajna). The Buddha said in the Dhammapada that our thoughts are the forerunner of our actions (Max Muller translation):

      Now here I’m going to suggest we look at the definition of volition’ this is called Cetanā (Sanskrit, Pali; Tibetan Wylie: sems pa) it is a Buddhist term commonly translated as "volition", "intention", "directionality", etc. It can be defined as a mental factor that moves or urges the mind in a particular direction, toward a specific object or goal in the various schools of traditional Buddhism Cetanā is identified as follows:

  • One of the seven universal mental factors in the Theravada Abhidharma.
  • One of the Ten mahā-bhūmika in Sarvastivada Abhidharma.
  • One of the five universal mental factor in the Mahayana Abhidharma
  • The most significant mental factor involved in the creation of karma.
            Karma or Kamma is a Sanskrit word, which has been alternatively defined in English as “action” or sometimes “intentional action” or simply volition. But when used in the Dharma it would be more accurate to describe it a dynamic process involving intentional actions by sentient beings and the associated effects caused by or resulting from those actions. Were I disagree with many teachers description of Karma is the statement that “Karma is a mental urge”. Which in itself suggests all actions are motivated only by a strong instinctual desire, drive; or impulse; which would strip us of free will and the ability to actually do things on our own volition. Traditionally we say that the deluded in Samsara are driven by such accumulated habits and urges but those that follow the path can and do learn to counter act these residual elements and take control of our lives.   I know that many  Zen Buddhist are not  familiar with this treatise, but perhaps the best treatise I know of on Karma are chapters 13 and 14 (Volume 1) of the Lam Rim Chen Mo, by the great Lama Tsong-Kha-PA , published by snow lion press. And at this time I have got to point out that I consider Tsong-Kha-PA one of the foremost writers and teachers on Buddhism and its practice and that the Lam Rim Chen Mo should be read by anyone serious about Buddhism , there has now been an English translation for of this work for several years. I highly recommend it to you.

      In my opinion (and it is just that my opinion) most schools of Buddhism are simply different approaches sometimes called skillful means to accomplish what Buddha himself said Buddhism was all about:  to mitigate if not totally eliminate those things in life which causes so much suffering and misery. I’m going to lump all of this under the term traditionally used in Buddhism as dukkha. And further that all of these teachings are a means of training ourselves to have the education and the wisdom to see what is causing our suffering , to understand it,  and in the best case avoid it.
             I recently had a discussion with a Zen priest, on line,  concerning expectations after he gave a short essay on expectations and the misery they cause. My position on this in my response was that one of the most uplifting things in life is a thing that we call "hope".  Further that hope’s major component is expectations. His response involved a subtle separation of expectations from hope, if I understood him correctly he was separating them out by excluding emotional and personal involvement in one over the other. Now I’m not a Zen priest and I do not claim to have the wisdom that they are assumed to have. His response may be and probably was perfectly correct at least as far as one can be correct on any issue of Buddhist philosophy.

            The problem with all this and everything I’ve written above is that we are real people living in a real world and that if it is to have any real value and I know I keep using the term real which is giving a major headache to all you Buddhist philosophers, but I’m going to insist that we all have mutual experiences that comprise a human life and live in a world where those experiences occur and reoccur in virtually everyone’s life. Those things are what I call real. We all share common experience which I will call real at least on a mundane level. 
           Now some people don’t think that Buddhism and especially Zen needs to have any practical application, I cannot tell you how many times and teachers have told  me not to come to Zen expecting to get anything out of it . That in the end it has nothing to offer. This is a viewpoint that they continually belie by their own actions and words. If Zen has nothing to offer why are they offering it, if it has no value why is anyone listening to them?
      After almost 30 years of studying Buddhism in different Buddhist schools I really think that Buddha saw value in his teachings and that he taught them as a practical matter to express his compassion for their suffering in this world. That suffering requires a self to experience it.  I see Buddhism as a kind of science of the mind, I once heard it referred to as minding mind. Buddha himself said that the only thing that he taught was how people could relieve their own suffering, and that they were the cause of it and they were the only ones who could truly stop it. His prescription for this cure was the eight fold path.

            Now I’m coming to the essence of my essay which is simply weather a person who is practicing right thought and right intention  can choose to suffer and still be right?
            One of the primary differences in the western sciences of mind and Buddhism is that Buddhism does not separate out our emotional matrix from our intellectual matrix. We all have by our very nature emotions and an intellect.  The early Buddhist philosophers seem to me to have seen that the emotional matrix is very much a part of the intellectual matrix as a practical matter in our life they are impossible to separate.  So when the Buddhist fathers taught about detachment and renunciation I think they were viewing this from a very real practical every day point of view.

                I like to think that I am a little bit older and wiser,  I sure know I’m older,  than I was 30 years ago and that the experiences I’ve had in those 30 years have accumulated and affected both my point of view and how I perceive the teachings of Buddhism.  I think people with limited experiences in life have a tendency to be a lot like the children who have just learned a new skill or a new concept and want to show it off to everyone, this leads to young men and women with very little experience in the realities of life having read a few books and heard a few lectures making profound statements about the teachings of Buddhism without the underpinning of the experiences of life that really test those teachings. In other words I hear a lot of arrogant little children all caught up in their own self-esteem glibly making pronunciations about detachment, existence and suffering when they have experienced very little of both.  It’s a fine thing to have a mind that works well and a good intellectual capacity it’s quite another to have the wisdom that is brought upon one by experience.

             Perhaps the greatest armor that Buddha taught as he walked barefoot across India as protection against our misery was our attachment to the world in the things and it. I think that’s why he created monks and a monastic movement. He certainly had rejected the ascetic movement, but at the same time he created a movement of renunciation.  Practically speaking Buddha had parents, he had a wife and he had a son so from a personal point of view he was well aware of what that meant to a person’s psyche. He knew the obligations that these things imposed. But today as Buddhism spreads broadly across a  community of lay practitioners people living in the real world and having family and family obligations,  most people do not have the will or the courage to leave them behind. Buddha himself did have the will and the courage and I think that taught him just how difficult that makes the practice of Buddhism. I said difficult, not impossible.

            I’m going to assume that the people that are reading this are not Buddhist monks or ascetics but people who have families husbands wives children and all of the emotional bonds that come with them.  My first pronunciation that I’m going to pull right out my hat is that I think that this is perfectly fine.  I think there is nothing that can screw up your Buddhist practice more and yet have more potential for value in making you really experience Buddhism and understand its teachings than having people you love and people you have both hope and expectations for.
            Buddhism itself is based on vows. These vows expressed an intention and in doing so under the teachings of Buddhism create actions of volition. In an almost existential manner Buddhism says you’re responsible for these intentions when it says that karma is created by actions of "thought" and the  words you speak and the deeds you do. I was a Buddhist I married and I was a Buddhist when I had my children and I had read many  Buddhist teachings but I chose both to be a Buddhist and a father and a husband. I was perfectly aware that being a father and husband would create attachments as deep as any attachments in the human experience. So I think it’s fair to say that of my own volition and with my Buddhist education and of my own  free will chose to suffer. I chose the suffering that was inevitable when I took these roles.
            I do not think that suffering taken knowingly and intentionally and with purpose is necessarily a bad thing. Buddhist are taught to have compassion for all living things and this always starts with having compassion for yourself. So I do not regret one minute or even one second of the suffering that I knew would go along with taking on these obligations. So my answer to the question in the title of this essay is that most of us will many times in our life knowingly and intentionally create circumstances that will lead to our own suffering and I do not think this is necessarily in opposition to the teachings of Buddhism.  If I were to have followed the path truly and become a  monk it could be easily said that I was practicing right view and right intention. But I do not think that right view and right intention excludes  an informed decision to take  upon yourself the suffering that goes with things like being a father or a  mother or a spouse. My conclusion :

            Choosing Dukkha, is not always wrong, and sometimes it may even be the most rewarding thing you can do.           


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Wrong Side of History

          One of the more interesting things about history is that it seems to be changing all the time. I live in the United States a country which seems to have become in the last 20 years  extraordinarily polarized.  One of the more irritating facets of American society is that we let individuals and newsroom reporters and so called think tanks tell us who and what we are and what we are supposed to think. They are constantly applying labels to everyone and everything.  Probably the two most irritating labels that I’ve run across of late are the terms conservative and liberal.   The primary quality that’s assigned to the term conservative seems to be a strong fear of and resistance to change.  The primary quality assigned to being liberal is to encourage change, usually concerning social and political behavior.
                 One of the more fascinating qualities that distinguishes Buddhism from the three other major religions on the planet right now is each groups attitude toward change. Christianity, Islam and Judaism all seem to have at their core a basic quality that seems to align them with the term or a label we call conservative. That is to say they seem to be extremely fearful of and resistant to change. Buddhism on the other hand has at its core the teaching that change is the very nature of reality.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons that modern Buddhist are more often than not considered liberals while members of the other three religions seem to be conservative at their core and only liberal around the edges.

            I am I think a member of a class of people in the west  and especially in the United States,  that usually makes up the core of the conservative groupings, both politically and religiously. That is to say I am male, white, moderately educated, and pretty much in the middle of the middle class economically .  Change very often means for my group a lessening of respect, a lessening of power both socially and politically as well as a deepening anxiety that this lessening will increase in crescendo to an all-out collapse of our privileged  status in society. Whether this is true or not is really irrelevant because it’s what is perceived to be true by most of the members of my group. And one of the things I’ve noticed is that it doesn’t really matter if it’s actually happening or not. The fear that this is what’s going on is more than sufficient to drive members of my class to become more and more afraid of change and of the future, and of other people.

            A short synopsis of recent history in the west I think can be illustrated here to explain this fear. For several hundred years members of my cast group told themselves and everyone else that God had appointed certain people to be our rulers, these people usually looked and acted just like me. Many people in my group historically made their living’s by exploiting other people. While this is not true of our group as a whole there certainly were sufficient numbers of people who believe this way to create thousands of years of misery and Empire going from Genghis Khan to the British Empire.  My groups belief in their own natural superiority allowed them to own slaves, have children work in their coal mines in their factories for 12 to 18 hours a day, and conquer and destroy  the cultures of just about everybody in the world who wasn’t white.  In almost every society regardless oof race or religion for thousands of years males have dominated females in just about every way imaginable. The conservative white male opposed women’s suffrage and still to this day many oppose women receiving equal pay for equal work. Hell we even told people, and ourselves  that animals couldn’t feel pain so when we worked them to death we wouldn't feel guilty about it. I am not joking about this I’ve actually read historical papers were so-called scientists argued that animals couldn’t feel pain or suffer like humans do. To me that’s just mind-boggling.

            The United States of America was started by some people that believed that the citizens of a nation should have control over how that nation was run. I think people forget that good old King George believed in the divine right of kings. This was an unheard of idea, at least for the last thousand years.  America has a lot of guilt on its doorstep, hundreds of thousands of Americans killed each other because about half of us wanted to own slaves. The Supreme Court of the United States upheld the right for corporations to have 10 and 12-year-old children work themselves to death in their factories and actually saying that this was good for their character. We  all but wiped out the native Americans that were here before we were. The men that started our country were of course both practical and more than a little bit hypocritical.  They wrote wonderful poetry about the quality of man while upholding slavery and basically consigning women to the status of property. But that in no way changes what a great and wonderful idea America was and is. Politician's like Donald Trump harken back to the days when people like him were the undisputed ruling  class of every one else here. This he says will make America "Great Again". He is unable to see that America is now greater than it has ever been, closer to the dream that it was founded upon than it has ever been.

            Right about now most of the members of my class are calling me a traitor and saying that I hate my nation, that I am un-American to my core. That I don’t love my country because I’m willing to admit that in the past my country did things that I don’t think were very nice. This is an outrageous argument and untrue. America started as an experiment in equality and liberty and that experiment is still ongoing. It is a dream that has just begun to unfold.  We Americans are a very young group of people as a nation. For that matter nationalism itself is a fairly new concept on the stage of history. There is no way to go back and undo what’s been done, and certainly when  at some point there has to  come an end to dwelling over it birth pangs. I really don’t think that if women get equal pay I’m going to be somehow made to suffer for it.  I don’t think that if people of different colors and races and religions all have an equal say in how our government is run.that I have any great thing to fear from that.  Of course when you look back on history and you see what my  own group has done to the other folks in the world you certainly do have a valid reason to fear that they might do the same thing to you that was done to them, even expect it to be so. . But the  goal here, the hope and the dream is progress not history repeating itself, a nightmare with each group taking it's turn to exploit the other. The simple fact is all those issues that arose leading to a Civil War in the United States are still playing themselves out,  not only in our country but all over the world. 
            All of the economic and social class issues that led to the French Revolution, the Marxist revolution in Russia and class war across the world are  still playing themselves out on the world stage.  The opposing  ideas of a theocracy verse a secular government are still killing thousands. The amazing  thing is that almost everyone in the United States at least really believes in that wonderful poetry that the founding fathers wrote about liberty and equality.  But  all of them have their own blind spots, areas in which they just can’t see what the real problem is. That applies to both conservatives and liberals and to Christians, Muslims, and Jewish people. There is this horrible mental and emotional disease that humans have that tells them that if everyone doesn’t act look and behave the way they do they are under threat and that fear blinds us.

            There has been more change in the world in the last hundred years then there was in the last 10,000 years of human history.  Scientists tell us that as the environment changes those species that learned to change with the environment and to adapt to it survive and those that don’t become extinct. It’s really fascinating and horrifying to see  an entire race of people almost 7,000,000,000 strong constantly at war with each other when at their core they all want the same thing or at least  the same thing for themselves,  if not for those others they perceive as "different". I have no answer to this nor do I have any explanation for it. But I do believe it is a fact. It is this fact that may well kill us all.

            But I do have an opinion, just as I’m sure you do. My opinion is that any religion or society or  a nation that isn’t willing to accept and adapt to change is going to go extinct and perhaps take everyone else on the planet with it. Of all the religions on earth the only one that I know of that embraces change is Buddhism. I think we all accept that the thing that we call Buddhism is going to change that this change is inevitable. The other religions must adapt to change or parish.  But if I were to pick a survivor, that is to say pick out which set of beliefs will still be around in a  1000 years my bet is on Buddhism.  I think our fundamental belief in change will put us on the right side of history.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Enlightment and Emptiness

               Whenever I decide to comment on a subject in this blog I always like to research what I’m talking about, I have a  really good library of Buddhism and of course I always search the Internet to see if the history has changed while I wasn’t looking. Yesterday something happened that’s never happened to me before, while finishing up my notes on the subject I found a blog post by a man named Lewis Richmond. It was as if he had stolen my memories and my education and written the blog post that I was in the process of writing but he wrote it back in 2011. I’m going to do something now that I have never done.  I am going to republish in part Mr. Richman’s post from back in 2011. I give Mr. Richman absolute credit for what’s written below.  It is however from my decades of practicing Buddhism in my judgment  the most absolutely correct history of the development of the word “enlightenment” in the history of American Buddhist that I have ever encountered. It is concise, and while it skips a few points that I would’ve made, for example the long-running battle between those Buddhist that believed that awakening was at an event that took place suddenly , something that struck like lightning, and those that believe that it was something that occurred over a lifetime of practice and work. This debate has raged for centuries and at one point cumulated into a very famous debate that took place in Tibet. It said that the proponent of gradual awakening won the debate, and that some sore losers actually waylaid and murdered the other debater

        The conflict between these two approaches was, according to Tibetan tradition, settled in the eighth century in a formal debate. Whether the debate actually occurred as such has been called into doubt, but there is no question of the importance of the legend of the debate to the Tibetan tradition. According to the Tibetan histories, the debate was arranged in Samyé temple in the late eighth century to determine whether Tibet would accept Indian or Chinese Buddhism ( think Chan and Zen here)  as normative. In the stories of the debate, the Indian side was identified with gradualism and the Chinese side with simultaneism, a greatly simplified version of the complexities of early Buddhist influences on Tibet which nonetheless became widely accepted in Tibet. According to tradition, the Indian Buddhist scholar Kamalaśīla, arguing for the gradualist position, opposed an Chinese monk called Hashang Mahāyāna, who was arguing for the simultaneist position. In the Tibetan versions of the story, Hashang was defeated, and his method rejected

            . I can’t see how it Mr. Lewis managed to leave that out but other than that his blog was spot on. I really hope that he doesn’t resent my republishing part of his blog, but I think what he has written needs to be preserved and remembered because we second wave baby boomer Buddhists are on our way out and history has a way of being rewritten especially when it comes to American Buddhism. I have watched this occur on a very fundamental basis over the last 20 years in the practice of Zen and in what I consider a tragic corruption of the Tibetan tradition by Westerners with money.

   Mr. Lewis Richmond is a Buddhist writer and teacher, and the author of the upcoming Aging as a Spiritual Practice, to be published Spring, 2012. Lewis leads a Zen meditation group, Vimala Sangha  , and teaches at Workshops And retreats throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. He has published three books, including the national bestseller Work as a Spiritual Practice. Lewis also leads a discussion on aging as a spiritual practice at Tricycle magazines online community site.


“A Cultural History of the Word 'Enlightenment'”


By Lewis Richmond

“ The word "enlightenment" in a Buddhist context has been used so frequently and in so many ways, many people may not realize that this use of the word began fairly recently, and has a complex cultural and literary history.

Though 19th century translators of Buddhist texts sometimes used the word "enlightenment" to refer to Gautama's moment of spiritual awakening on seeing the morning star, the first time a large number of general English readers saw the word used as a spiritual term was with the publication Essays on Zen Buddhism First Series by D.T. Suzuki in the 1930s. Before that time the word referred to the 18th century rationalist movement in Europe that strove to understand the world using logic and reason.

D.T. Suzuki used the word "enlightenment" to translate the Japanese term satori¸ and his recounting of the enlightenment stories from the Zen koan literature made quite a splash among intellectual elites at the time. From that time forward, the idea of a sudden transformative spiritual experience became embedded in Western cultural imagination. It is worth nothing that D.T. Suzuki paid relatively little attention in his writings to the Buddhist practices of precepts, mindfulness, meditation, and the monastic life.

The best-selling books of Alan Watts in the 1950s, and Philip Kapleau's The Three Pillars of Zen in the 1960s, filled in some of D.T. Suzuki's omissions (Kapleau's book had good instruction about how to meditate, for example). But it was not until the arrival of Asian teachers in the late 1960s, that students began to understand that Buddhism was about much more than a single epiphany; it was a lifelong path of spiritual development which included both sudden and gradual transformations.

It was Shunryu Suzuki (not D.T. Suzuki), who said in the 1960s, when asked directly about satori, "Satori is not the part of Zen that needs to be stressed." (This was quoted in the introduction to the paperback edition of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind). In other words, he did not deny the reality or importance of satori; he just pointed out that satori, when separated from rest of Buddhist practice, has a tendency to devolve into just another object of desire, something the ego wants for itself.

"Satori" is the Japanese reading of the Chinese character "wu," which is in turn a Chinese translation of the Sanskrit "bodhi," which does indeed mean spiritual insight or awakening. We see this root term in words such as "bodhisattva" (literally enlightenment-being) or "bodhicitta" (the thought of enlightenment). Some Buddhist scholars (Edward Conze, for example) have felt that the Zen emphasis on satori as the sine qua non of Buddhist experience is somewhat outside the mainstream of Buddhist tradition. The Buddha himself taught an eight-fold path with many facets, all of them important. The Tibetan and Vipassana approaches each have detailed descriptions of the gradual stages of spiritual development. Even within Zen, there were various schools and approaches; not all of them emphasized satori as primary.

During the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s the sudden alteration of consciousness brought on by LSD and other drugs dovetailed neatly into the satori stories of Zen. Many veterans of psychedelics sought out Buddhist teachers to see if meditation could reproduce those altered states. Many Buddhist teachers and writers worked to counteract that view. That may have been the context of Shunyru Suzuki's remark about satori. Lama Anagarika Govinda, a German-born Buddhist teacher popular at the time, likened the psychedelic experience to a deep rut in the center of a wide road. Once you have carved that rut, he said, all your other spiritual experiences tend to roll down into it.

In the 1960s book Conversations Christian and Buddhist by Catholic priest Aelred Graham, he recounts the time Yamada Mumon Roshi  an eminent Japanese Zen Master at the time, took LSD. Mumon Roshi's comment about the experience was, "This is form is emptiness, but this is not emptiness is form."

Shunryu Suzuki had his own teaching on this point. He said, "'Form is emptiness' is relatively easy to understand; 'emptiness is form' takes a lifetime."

It will be interesting to see how the next generation of Buddhist teachers and practitioners deal with the cultural history (and baggage) of the word "enlightenment." Maybe they will bypass it; maybe they will change it. I have a feeling that whatever they do they will come up with their own rather different understanding (and possibly mis-understanding) of this deep matter.”



    This is the end of the part of Mr. Richman’s article that I have reproduced here.  As readers of this blog know I practiced with the Tibetans for many years.  And I will always appreciate the teachings I received from any and all those old monks who have probably gone on to their next rebirth by now.   I was always fascinated by the statements that were made virtually every practice session that enlightenment could be  achieved in a single lifetime, this statement accompanied by the fact that old-time fundamentalist Buddhist like the Tibetans have a firm belief in reincarnation and rebirth, they also pride themselves on their logic and logical analysis, so it always seemed kind of funny to me to say that enlightenment could be achieved in one lifetime when in fact no one is on their first lifetime and by their own teachings the rebirth into this lifetime where you have encountered the teachings means that you have progressed through numerous lifetimes to reach this point.  I think when the Tibetans came over to America they encountered the Zen Buddhist that were already here and adopted the term enlightenment without giving much thought as to whether or not their western students would be able to distinguish their cultural illusions of what that word meant from what they ( the Tibetan Monks) were talking about and the problems it would cause later on down the road. Of course there are other words like Nirvana and prajna',  as well as Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi in Hinduism and in Buddhism, that have led to endless confusion in the teachings of traditional Buddhism when translated into English.

        I think the translation of prajna  and various other  Sanskrit words into the word enlightenment and the English translation for the Sanskrit word  Śūnyatā as the English word “emptiness”  have made them the two most misunderstood concepts in American Buddhism. Emptiness as Americans understand it in its normal application has nothing to do  with the Buddhist concept  of  Sunyata.  (I suspect  somewhere  out there Mr. Richman has probably written a blog post on this very subject as well,  it’s like the guy can read my damn mind, and his is probably better than I can do.)  Of course  the concept of Sunyata  is as old as Buddhism itself,  and what it means may depend upon whether or not you're reading the Pali cannon  or a Mahayana Sutra.

              So according to  Pali Philosophy as Thanissaro Bhikku, writes  emptiness is a quality of dharmas, in the early canons, means simply that one cannot identify them as one's own self or having anything pertaining to one's own self...Emptiness as a mental state, in the early canons, means a mode of perception in which one neither adds anything to nor takes anything away from what is present, noting simply, "There is this." This mode is achieved through a process of intense concentration, coupled with the insight that notes more and more subtle levels of the presence and absence of disturbance .

         Meanwhile  in the Mahayana schools, the famous  monk philosopher  Nagarjuna  decided that he would redefine  Śūnyatā ,   He equates emptiness with dependent origination. On the basis of the Buddha's view that all experienced phenomena (dharma) are "dependently arisen" (pratitya-samutpanna), Nagarjuna insisted that such phenomena are empty (sunya). This did not mean that they are not experienced and, therefore, non-existent; only that they are devoid of a permanent and eternal substance. . Since they are experienced elements of existence, they are not mere names. In his analysis, any enduring essential nature would prevent the process of dependent origination, or any kind of origination at all. For things would simply always have been, and will always continue to be, without any change. In doing so, he  restores the Middle way of the Buddha. His goal seems to have been at the time to refute the essentialism of Abhidharma, a third century BCE reworking of Buddhist teachings found in the Pali Cannon.  But in no case is emptiness in Buddhism related directly to the English word that simply means containing nothing, not filled or occupied. 

        I think it’s important that the  history of the English word "enlightenment" and the  history of the English word "emptiness" as they stumbled into Buddhism in America  be recorded somewhere. I’ve heard it said that once something is on the Internet it lives forever maybe this little bit of knowledge about how we got to where we are will hang around longer than the baby boomers that screwed all this up in the first place.

 Gassho, Togen  




Friday, September 4, 2015

The Three Ages of Buddhism, Welcome to Mappo.

The Three Ages of Buddhism, also known as the (Three Ages of the Dharma) are three divisions of time following Buddha's passing.  Buddhist temporal cosmology assumes a cyclical pattern of ages, and even when the current Buddha's teachings fall into disregard, a new Buddha will at some point be born to ensure the continuity of Buddhism. This cosmology  appeared early in Buddhist writings references to the decline of the Dharma over time can be found in such Mahayana sutras as the Diamond Sutra and the Lotus Sutra, but also to a lesser degree in some texts in the Pāli Canon such as the Cullavagga of the Vinaya Pitaka. Nanyue Huisi was an early monk who taught about it; he is considered the third Patriarch of the Tiantai.

The Three Ages of Buddhism are three divisions of time following Buddha's passing:

  1. The Former Day of the Law, also known as the Age of the Right Dharma the first thousand years (or 500 years) during which the Buddha's disciples are able to uphold the Buddha's teachings;
  2. The Middle Day of the Law, also known as the Age of Semblance Dharma, the second thousand years (or 500 years), which only resembles the right Dharma;
  3. The Latter Day of the Law , Mappo, which is to last for 10,000 years during which the Dharma declines.

             The three periods are significant primarily to Mahayana adherents, particularly those who hold the Lotus Sutra in high regard, such as the Tiantai and Tendai  and Nichiren Buddhist, and some schools of Zen,  who believe that different Buddhist teachings are valid (i.e., able to lead practitioners to enlightenment) in each period due to the different capacity to accept a teaching  of the people born in each respective period.  

      In the Lotus Sutra, Visistacaritra is entrusted to spread Buddhist law in this age and save mankind and the earth. He and countless other Bodhisattvas, specifically called Bodhisattvas of the Earth (of which he is the leader), vow to be reborn in a latter day to re-create Buddhist law, thus turning the degenerate age into a flourishing paradise. Shakyamuni entrusts them instead of his more commonly known major disciples with this task since the Bodhisattvas of the Earth have had a karmic connection with Shakyamuni since the beginning of time, meaning that they are aware of the Superior Practice which is the essence of Buddhism or the Dharma in its original, pure form some call the era of Maitreya (the future Buddha)

             Pure Land Buddhism in China and Japan believe we are now in this latter age of "degenerate Dharma". Pure Land followers therefore attempt to attain rebirth into the pure land of Amitābha, where they can practice the Dharma more readily. Nichiren Buddhism has taught that its teaching is the most suitable for the recent Mappō period. Vajrayana Buddhism taught that its teaching would be popular when "iron birds are upon the sky" before its decline. The Kalacakra tantra contains a prophecy of a holy war in which a Buddhist king will win. Theravada Buddhists taught that Buddhism would decline in five thousand years.  Some monks such as Dōgen and Hsu Yun had alternative views regarding dharma decline. Oddly enough Dōgen believed that there is no mappō while Hsu Yun thought mappō is not inevitable. Maybe that's why Dōgen  wrote huge volumes on Buddhism while telling his students scholars went to the hell of hungry Ghosts.

So the point of this small bit of trivia is being presented so that you understand that Zen Buddhism in Japan and China, pure land Buddhism in Japan and China, Nichiren Buddhism as they all exist today all developed, more or less,  during what is known as the Kamakura Period of Japan  1192-1333, based on the belief that we have now entered the Mappo period of Buddhism. With the basic understanding that in this degenerate age the people born herein  are not capable of understanding Buddhism as it was taught by the Buddha. 

           So! Each school is in effect a chopped down readers digest form of Buddhism aimed at the diminished capacity of the people who are born in this age because they’re not capable of digesting the pure Dharma.

           Therefore, Zen practitioners are taught to just sit, pure land practitioners are taught to just chant the name of the Buddha of pure light, Amitabha, so that he can take them to a pure land where they can do what’s necessary to become enlightened, Nichiren Buddhists only have to recite the first couple of paragraphs of the Lotus Sutra, over and over, they don’t even have to understand the words.
Just thought I’d mention this, it seems like something worth knowing.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Miracles of the Buddha and the Modern Buddhist

                Several years ago I was writing for or at least contributed to a Buddhist website which I believe was named “The Kalachakra  this website was put together by a man in Holland whose name is I recall was Rudy. It was perhaps one of the best Buddhist websites I have ever read. Rudy was nice enough to have different sections of the website set up for different schools of Buddhism. Of course The Kalachakra is in fact a very advanced teaching in Tibetan Buddhism. But Rudy was nice enough have different parts of his website dedicated to the other teachings and schools of Buddhism.  Perhaps the saddest thing about this website was that eventually it was destroyed by hackers who for some reason despised Buddhism in all its forms.  Rudy tried to rebuild the website several times but the anti-Buddhist hackers just would not let it stand, a wonderful example of 21st century religious intolerance.
         One of the sections on the website was dedicated to what the Tibetan Buddhist scholars referred to as Hinayana Buddhism but which is more properly called the Theravada tradition, which continues as the main form of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, but some scholars deny that the term included Theravada Buddhism. In 1950 the World Fellowship of Buddhists declared that the term Hīnayana should not be used when referring to any form of Buddhism existing today. This being because Hinayana is now consider a derogatory term, since in Sanskrit it means smaller vehicle which is often also translated as inferior.  Theravada Buddhism was once simply called Southern Buddhism by English scholars trying to study the history of Buddhism. It’s cannon is perhaps the oldest written Buddhist scriptures that we presently have and is therefore sometimes simply referred to as the Buddhism of the elders.
            One of the things that marks the Theravada sutras and writings is there reciting of the many miracles that Buddha was supposed to have performed in his lifetime. This is not to say that the other schools of Buddhism that came later did not themselves recite many unbelievable miracles performed by the Buddha. It is my observation that one of the many stumbling blocks that almost all religions throw up for the modern mind is the insistence that all their founders performed a horde of miracles while they walked the earth. Both the Bible and the Koran are chock-full of an almost  endless list of miracles performed by Jesus or Moses and of course the founder of Islam Mohamed. I think it’s fair to say that almost every religion seems to find it a necessity to recite these miracles as proof of the wonder, the power and the divinity of their founders and Buddhism is no exception. The population of the earth has expanded to the billions but still many of those billions believe firmly in the miracles performed by their founders and their Saints. While a larger and larger number of people who have converted to the more materialistic religion of science see these claims of miraculous acts as proof that these religions are composed primarily of fairytales.  The great Christian writer CS Lewis once noted that if Christianity was simply based on the teachings of Christ and not on Christ’s divinity and his miraculous powers as a son of God than Christianity would be meaningless.
            So one day I logged onto The Kalachakra website and went over to the section that was provided for followers of the Theravada school to chat and ask questions concerning their teachings. Unfortunately Theravada Buddhism is not well distributed in the European and in Western countries so the person assigned to supervise that section did not in fact practice that school of Buddhism and was terribly ignorant of the schools teaching. Of course these people that were assigned to the sections were there primarily to keep people from posting advertisements for products, to keep members of the website from flaming each other, and to act as a referee over any disputes that arose in the chat rooms. 
            A few days before this one of the very few persons on the website who actually practiced Theravadan Buddhism had begun to ask questions concerning several of the miracles recited in the Pali canon.  I’d done my best to try to answer these questions for this person and even done quite a bit of research to try to help them along. But on this day the person assigned to oversee this section lost control of herself and flamed this  member to the sky and his belief  in Buddhist miracles.   She of course argued that these are all fairytales and had no place on a website concerning modern Buddhism. This new member who I believe was from Malaysia became terribly offended, informed her that he had been taught these stories from the time he was a small child by the Buddhist monks in his country and they were not fairytales but the absolute truth, then he quit the website.
            Of course when I and Rudy saw this we ask her to give up her position monitoring the threads on that section. But it was too late almost everyone who was a member of that section quit the website right after that.  It’s just a very hard for modern Western Buddhist to give the Buddhist who were brought up in countries where Buddhism was the primary religion the slack and tolerance that all Buddhist should have towards the different teachings from the different countries that practice Buddhism. The fact is we just can’t deal with miracles. This is especially true among Western practitioners of Zen.
            Buddhism is over 2500 years old, it’s a basic teachings fit very well with the modern teachings of our materialistic and scientific education in the West. But most Western Buddhist would just rather ignore the old sutras which contain all these miracles and superpowers attributed to the Buddha. And one of the fascinating things about Buddha himself is that he reportedly responded to any request for a miracle by saying “ I dislike them, saying he rejected and  despised them, and refused to comply to such a request. And on several occasions Buddha is quoted as warning his listeners that miraculous powers should not be the reason for practicing his path. And in several places he is quoted as saying that people should not believe his teachings either because of any miraculous thing it done or because of his divine authority. 
            Despite this the sutras often recite miracles that he supposedly performed such as flying, building a jeweled archway in the sky and pacing back and forth on it for days. Generally speaking if we sum up most of the sutras that talk about his powers we find eight really glaring miracles that he was to have performed.
            The first miracle of courses when he was born he supposedly stood up took seven steps to the north and gave a speech: 

            "I am chief of the world,
             Eldest am I in the world,
              Foremost am I in the world.
              This is the last birth.
              There is now no more coming to be."

            Quite a feat for a kid who just got born a few seconds before. Also rather amazing since he apparently didn’t remember making it and proceeded to live the next 30 years as your average everyday run of the mill totally pampered prince of one of the 15 kingdoms of India. Then ran away from home after the birth of his child to go find himself.
        Perhaps his second miracle was that he allegedly went into the world of the gods and explained his teachings to the chief Hindu God Brahma himself, who then begged him to give these teachings to the world.
            His third most famous miracle was when a jealous cousin of his released a giant bull elephant that had been tormented into madness by its keepers and set loose in the street to trample the Buddha into the ground.  But of course when the elephant reached Buddha rather than trampling him it calmed down then it  kneeled on one knee and let him stroke it's trunk.
            One of his fourth miracles was simply converting the water of a poisoned well into clear drinkable water.  In another story he walked on water, in yet another story he flew through the air with 500 others disciples to go have a chat with a king who want to learn about Buddhism. In fact his miraculous powers included super hearing divine seeing traveling through time and seeing all of his own past lives and remembering them all, and of course being several different places at once. 
            Just like many Catholics seem to have a need to believe in the miraculous powers of Jesus, and the Muslims who believe that the superpowers of Mohammed are essential to believing in Islam many Buddhist throughout the world have a need to believe that the Buddha was omniscient and basically had all the powers that Superman possessed and his comic books. 
            So now I’m coming to the crux of this whole post do we have to believe that Buddha attained superpowers when he woke up that day under the bodhi tree? Was CS Lewis correct when he said that the teachings of Jesus meant nothing if they weren’t backed up by superpowers and miracles? Of course my decision early on this question was that these tales of Buddhist miracles are  cultural artifacts and completely unnecessary to either believe or even consider when deciding to become a Buddhist.  Yet still today they are in fact a stumbling block to many people’s belief in Buddhism and many Western teachers simply act like the stories were never told because they know if they tell the stories their Western students will run away laughing. Then of course there are the literally thousands of people who seem to come to Buddhism because they believe that if they meditate long enough they will attain these superpowers.
            So now I’m going to tell you and old Buddhist story, it in fact does not concern the Buddha but rather two men lost in the desert. After several days both men were dying of thirst and then they had the great fortune to come across a great roaring River of pure water slicing through the desert. One of the men ran to the river and drank and quenches his thirst, while the other man sets on the riverbank and simply stares at the River. His companion looks at him and says what your problem, your dying of thirst here’s the River drink. The second man looks back and replies, but I could never drink all that water. I just can’t do it he says it’s too much for me. And then with the river in front of him he sets down and dies of thirst.  
            When it comes to the miracles of the Buddha and the teachings of the Buddha I suggest that you take the approach of the first man, even if you can’t drink the whole River drink what you can and leave the rest alone.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Zen mind, a commentary on the mass shooting of nine black people at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

                         I’ve never been quite sure why I started this blog several years ago, and it I have addressed personal issues and issues relating to the history and practice of Buddhism in Zen. I have no idea how long a blog like this will last I have no idea how long it will float through the Internet some of my posts have been read by thousands of people and some of my posts have been read by almost no one. I suppose this has a lot to do with the title of the post and the search engine that picks up that title.  But what I have rarely done is addressed current events things that are happening right now in our society. Buddhism is thousands of years old and as scholars do more and more research they find that its teachings reach far back in time the truth is no one knows how far back.

               Most of the issues that I address have to do with the practice of Zen as it exists today in the teachings of the Buddha as they have been passed down to us over those thousands of years. One of  the really amazing things about Buddhism and the teachings of Buddha is that they are so fundamental to human nature that they never seem to lose their power because of  their truth and I think it is that truth that has kept it alive and spread it from one end of the planet to the other over those thousands of years.

 I’ve written on Buddhist websites and I have taught in Zendo’s I’ve even given lectures in Christian churches on the teachings of Buddha but I have never seen myself as a priest I have seen myself more as a scholar and a student of the teachings of Buddha and the history of Zen and Buddhism. My last couple of blog posts have been very personal and they were posted in what may be a vain attempt to help other people that have gone through some of the sufferings that I have. After all if Buddha ever made one promise about his teachings it was that they would mitigate our sufferings as we dealt with this life.

        The subject of this post is the Zen mind, a commentary on the mass shooting of nine black people at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston South Carolina on the evening of June 17, 2015. And it is being written shortly after that event. Anyone reading this post today will be very aware of the facts and the news media are flooding television and radio newspapers with the facts of this horrible event. But 10 years from now the world flooded by horrible events the people who are reading this post if it still exists might not remember that on the evening of June 17 a 21-year-old white man entered a historic church in Charleston South Carolina and sat down at a Bible study group. After about an hour of participating in the group he pulled a gun out of his pocket and shot nine people to death in cold blood, he left at least one witness alive so they could relate the twisted reasoning that drove him to do this. It was a statement of pure irrational racist hate made by a man whose mind was consumed with hate. At this particular time no one is aware of any particular harm that any of these people had ever done to him personally or to anyone he knew. It was an action driven by a mental state that we in the United States have observed on numerous occasions, simply put , unreasoning racial bigotry, irrational hate  and fear.

            Any historical observer or psychologist or for that matter any person familiar with human history will recognize this state of mind, I will call it here the “us versus them” state of mind. This state of mind is characterized by the individual separating himself out into one group and convincing himself or herself that a particular other group is intent on his destruction. While we see this quite often in racism it is certainly not been limited to that over a period of the last 10,000 years. As I write this in the Middle East and Africa Islam's ancient schism Sunnis and Shia Muslims have been slaughtering each other for thousands of years based upon this “us versus them” irrational separatist hate. Christians and Moslems and Jews have been slaughtering each other for generations deeply ingrained in this mindset of “us versus them”. When the Europeans landed on the North American continent one of the traits of their society was to see the Native Americans as subhuman, within 20 years 97% of the population of Native Americans on the North American continent were dead. These Europeans then started importing black slaves to North America and treating them pretty much in the same manner as subhuman creatures  that they could own, for all intent and  purposes animals that they could own as property and do with as they will.  Protestants and Catholics in Europe and Ireland have killed each other in the same irrational mindset for decades if not for hundreds of years.

            Now I’d like to step back into the present were journalists civil rights activist politicians and religious figures all are at this very moment pretending that they have some kind of cure for what happened in that church. I have read a blog by a civil rights leader proclaiming that open dialogue is the only answer. I’ve heard statements by religious figures stating that only God’s love can save us from this unreasoning hate.  One very well-known pundit named John Stuart on the Daily Show bemoaned the fact that he was convinced that in the end American society would do nothing about the conditions or the mindset that led to this tragedy. And perhaps the truth is we as a species just don’t know how to cure this disease of the mind.  Beneath all the great compassion being expressed across the world at this senseless act one can sense a deeper feeling of futility and hopelessness.  Religious leaders from almost every religion have expressed a willingness to try virtually anything that will eliminate this kind of behavior in the future, they offer  prayer and preaching and tears. But history has shown us that prayer and preaching and tears have in the end not stopped this plague upon our species. On this same day  Christian preachers claiming to represent the Prince of Peace stand in their pulpits and demand the arrest and execution of Gay and homosexual people who want to get married. The Confederate flag the battle flag of the South that represents a nation that fought and bled to maintain slavery flies over the capital of the state in which this occurred. It seems no one who supports this flag is willing to admit that it stands for hate and  that state of mind that led to that shooting of those nine innocent people. It is an icon around which races haters gather and at the same time in the year 2015 they still refuse to acknowledge what it represents.

            But in our country there is a growing number of people have begun to practice an ancient philosophy and way of life. Some people call Buddhism, some call it  a religion other peoples call it a lifestyle but virtually every type of Buddhist acknowledges the basic teachings of Buddha. And one of the things that separates Buddhism from all the other world religions is its requirement to deal with your own mind, using what Buddhists call skillful means primarily through the practice of meditation the Buddhist is taught to observe his own mind. This can be called minding mind and it is a powerful tool when applied sincerely by the individual practicing it.

            Buddha was perhaps one of the most insightful psychologist who ever lived.  One of his first revelations was that we are the victims of our own mind and that we have little control over it as we stumble through life. Well over 2500 years ago he was teaching people about their minds and providing them with advice and direction on how to observe their minds. Buddha wasn’t a God and Buddha wasn’t a Savior he was just a man but he is what we would call an enlightened a man who had seen things about the human condition and took up the selfish life of trying to show us what he saw.

            One of his teachings that is accepted by almost every school of Buddhism is the teaching on the monkey mind. It might even be better described as monkey minds, minds  intoxicated with fear and  irrational thoughts,  our self awareness filled with what we call our mind is filled with a chattering screeching and howling of what amounts to a pride of monkeys rattling around in our head. Buddha observed that it is almost pointless to try to vanquish these monkeys to make them disappear because the paradoxes is that the harder we try to resist the more they seem to persist. And that is perhaps one of the reasons why for thousands of years different religions have tried to vanquish these monkeys called hate and racism with very little success and have in fact often ended up under their control. They can not be killed only tamed.

             It is my opinion that even deeper down inside of us beneath the monkey minds there lies another mind more primitive and more powerful than even the most howling irrational monkey mind. I will call this the lizard mind and it is in this the lizard mind that the mindset of “we versus them” resides. This state of mind is so primitive it cannot be described in any way other than as a animalistic survival instinct which is why it is so strong and filters its way up through our higher minds gaining a coating of false rationalization and self-deception.  There was perhaps the time when there were 20 or 30 other types of humanlike primates walking the earth.  In that primitive time the lizard mind was probably King and that  probably explains why none of those other primates exists today.

            Buddha showed his students how to meditate in order to quiet those dozens of monkey minds hiding in our skulls. He showed us that the pratice of meditation could calm them down and that with a great deal of practice and observation many of these monkey minds could be tamed. In fact if one practices meditation and observes your own mind there comes a time when you can have a talk with these minds, you may not be able to reason them into changing their nature but through these conversations you can silence their voices sometimes almost putting them to sleep or under a kind of self control.  The monkey mind of fear cannot be dissolved or totally vanquished but it can be reasoned with an calmed down and put in its place.

            But perhaps the hardest mind to reach, the hardest mind to calm down the hardest mind to unbind its power upon you is that lizard mind. And it’s in that lizard mind that the key to our future continued existence on this planet resides.  The simple truth is Buddha knew that the only way to actually change the world was to change ourselves. This is not quite as hard a task as it may seem. If we teach our children to take the time to meditate a few minutes a day. If we teach ourselves that we are in fact responsible for ourselves and our future and our children’s future then perhaps there will be some hope that this lizard mind can be tamed. 

             I’m not saying of course that this is the cure to all racism separatism and hate. What I am saying is that this is a tool that is now available to everyone on the planet Earth. It’s on the Internet it’s on television is being taught by psychologist and secular teachers many of whom have never even heard of Buddha. And it is a practice which should be offensive to no one. What valid complaint can be brought against the teacher that simply suggests that we take a few minutes each day to breathe deeply and quiet our minds.

             You don’t need a temple or priest to meditate. You don’t have to invoke the name of Buddha or the name of any bodhisattva,  meditation has become as secular in the West as the practice of going to the gym and getting a good workout. We can talk to each other and we can live next to each other and we can observe that people of other religions and races and belief systems are just people just like us. That has power in and of itself.

          But if I have observed anything in the last 60 years it is that no state governments or churches or political leaders have any real  power over this lizard mind that drives young men to walk into a church and coldly murder nine people simply because of the color of their skin. If in the end we destroy ourselves I think it will be because we are simply too stubborn and childish  to grow up and take on the responsibility of our own minds.  The tools are there, just waiting to be picked up.