Monday, March 30, 2009

Spring Retreat in Cincinnati

We recently finished our Spring Retreat at the Grail, a retreat center just north of Cincinnati, Ohio. There were five of us who set out to face the task of just being in this very moment over the course of the four days.

This was my first time leading this group of transplanted Tendai Practitioners, and they all took to Zen practice like fish take to water. It is an illuminating experience when the efficacy of Buddhist practice shows its true face, no matter what approach we enter into it with. Buddhism has many faces in the West these days, and the subtle flavor differences shouldn't get in the way of sharing our Family practice with all of our Brothers and Sisters in the Dharma.

It is like different styles of eating. In America, people use a knife and fork; in China, people use only chopsticks; in Korea, people use chopsticks and a spoon, but the result is the same, they all get full. Entering into the Buddhadharma with a mind that is clear like space transcends even the boundaries of Buddhism itself. It is important to realize that the true Buddhist Adept is one who does not discriminate or make the mistake of entering into the world of opposites.

It is my aspiration that Buddhism take a firm root in American soil and slowly grow in this Western landscape of ours. Thanks to all of you who take time in your busy schedules to ask the important questions and are willing to live in a world of both confusion and clarity.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

4 Day Sesshin in Cincinnati

I will be leading a 4 Day Sesshin in Cincinnati at the Great Cloud Zen Center from Thursday to Sunday, I will return to the blogoshpere once I am back in California on Monday.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Ten Major Bodhisattva Precepts

The Buddhas said to his disciples, “There are ten major Bodhisattva precepts. If one receives the precepts but fails to recite them, he is not a Bodhisattva, nor is he a seed of Buddhahood. I, too, recite these precepts.”

“All Bodhisattvas have studied them in the past, will study in the future, and are studying them now. I have explained the main characteristics of the Bodhisattva precepts. You should study and observe them with all your heart.”

The Buddha continued:

1. I vow to abstain from taking any life

A disciple of the Buddha shall not kill, encourage others to kill, kill by expedient means, praise killing, rejoice at witnessing killing, or kill through incantation or deviant mantras. The disciple must not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of killing, and shall not intentionally kill any living creature.

As a Buddha’s disciple, they should nurture a mind of compassion and devotion, always devising expedient means to rescue and protect all beings. If instead, the disciple fails to restrain themselves and kills a sentient being without mercy, then they commit a Parajika offense requiring repentance.

2. I vow to abstain from taking things not given.

A disciple of the Buddha must not steal or encourage others to steal, steal by expedient means, and steal by means of incantation or deviant mantras. They should not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of stealing. No valuables or possessions, even those belonging to ghosts and spirits or thieves and robbers, be they as small as a needle or blade of grass, may be stolen.

As a Buddha’s disciple, the disciple ought to have a mind of mercy, compassion, and devotion–always helping people earn merits and achieve happiness. If instead, they steal the possessions of others, they are committing a major offense requiring repentance.

3. I vow to abstain from misconduct done in lust.

A disciple of the Buddha must not engage in licentious acts or encourage others to do so. As a lay practitioner or an ordained practitioner they should not have sexual relations with any person–be they a human, animal, deity or spirit–nor create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of such misconduct. Indeed, no disciples of Buddha must engage in improper sexual conduct with anyone.

A Buddha’s disciple ought to have a mind of devotion–rescuing all sentient beings and instructing them in the dharma of purity and chastity. If instead, they lack compassion and encourage others to engage in sexual relations promiscuously, including with animals and even their mothers, daughters, sisters, or other close relatives, they commit a major offense requiring repentance.

4. I vow to abstain from lying and false speech

A disciple of the Buddha must not use false words and speech, or encourage others to lie or lie by expedient means. They should not involve themselves in the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of lying, saying that they have seen what they have not seen or stating the opposite. The Buddhist disciple should no lie implicitly through physical or mental means.

As a Buddha’s disciple, the disciple ought to maintain right speech and right views always, leading all others to maintain them as well. If instead, the disciple causes wrong speech, wrong views or evil karma in others, they commit a major offense requiring repentance.

5. I vow not to sell intoxicating substances

A disciple of the Buddha must not trade in intoxicating substances or encourage others to do so. They should not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of selling any intoxicant whatsoever, for intoxicants are the causes and conditions of all kinds of offenses.

As a Buddha’s disciple, they should help all sentient beings achieve clear wisdom. If instead, the disciple causes them to have upside–down, topsy–turvy thinking, and commits a major offense requiring repentance.

6. I vow not to broadcast the faults of the assembly

A disciple of the Buddha must not broadcast the misdeeds or infractions of Bodhisattva clerics or Bodhisattva laypersons, or of bhiksus and bhiksunis–nor encourage others to do so. They must not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of discussing the offenses of the assembly.
As a Buddha’s disciple, whenever they hear evil persons, externalists or followers of the two vehicles speak of practices contrary to the Dharma or contrary to the precepts within the Buddhist community; the disciple should instruct them with a compassionate mind and lead them to develop wholesome faith in the Mahayana.

If instead, they discuss the faults and misdeeds that occur within the assembly, they are committing a major offense requiring repentance.

7. I vow not to praise myself while disparaging others

A disciple of the Buddha shall not praise him or herself nor speak ill of others, nor encourage others to do so. They must not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of personal praise and disparaging others.

As a disciple of the Buddha, they should be willing to stand in for all sentient beings and endure humiliation and slander–accepting blame and letting sentient beings have all the glory. If instead, the disciple displays personal virtues and conceals the good points of others, thus causing them to suffer slander, they commit a major offense requiring repentance.

8. I vow not to be covetous and to be generous

A disciple of the Buddha must not be stingy or encourage others to be stingy. They should not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of stinginess. As a Bodhisattva, whenever a destitute person comes for help, the disciple should give that person what is needed. If instead, out of anger and resentment, they deny all assistance–refusing to help with even a penny, a needle, a blade of grass, even a single sentence or verse or a phrase of Dharma, but instead scolds and abuses that person–they have committed a major offense requiring repentance.

9. I vow not to give way to anger and to be harmonious

A disciple of the Buddha shall not harbor anger or encourage others to be angry. The Bodhisattva should not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of anger.
As a disciple of the Buddha, they should be compassionate and devoted, helping all sentient beings develop the good roots of non–contention. If instead, the disciple insults and abuses sentient beings, or even transformation beings such as deities and spirits, with harsh words, hitting them with his fists or feet, or attacking them with a knife or club–or harbors grudges even when the victim confesses their mistakes and humbly seeks forgiveness in a soft, conciliatory voice–the disciple commits a major offense requiring repentance.

10. I vow not to slander the Triple Jewel (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha)

A Buddha’s disciple shall not himself speak ill of the Triple Jewel or encourage others to do so. They must not create the causes, conditions, methods or karma of slander. If a disciple hears but a single word of slander against the Buddha from externalists or evil beings, the disciple experiences a pain similar to that of three hundred spears piercing their heart. How then could they possibly slander the Triple Jewel themselves?

Hence, if a disciple lacks faith and devotion towards the Triple Jewel, and even assists evil persons or those of aberrant views to slander the Triple Jewel, they commit a major offense requiring repentance.

Conclusion: The Ten Major Precepts

As a disciple of the Buddha, you should study these ten parajika precepts and not break any one of them in even the slightest way–much less break all of them! Anyone guilty of doing so cannot develop the bodhi–mind in this current life and will lose whatever high position they may have attained, be it that of an emperor, Wheel–Turning King, Bhiksu, Bhiksuni–as well as whatever level of Bodhisattva–hood they may have reached, whether the ten dwellings, the ten practices, the ten dedications, the ten grounds–and all the fruits of the eternal Buddha Nature. The disciple will lose all of those levels of attainment and descend into the three evil realms, unable to hear the words “parents” or Triple Jewel for numberless kalpas! Therefore, Buddha’s disciples should avoid breaking any one of these major precepts. All of you Bodhisattvas should study and observe the ten precepts, which have been observed, are being observed, and will be observed by all Bodhisattvas. They were explained in detail in the chapter, “The Eighty Thousand Rules of Conduct.”

Source: The Brahmajala Sutra (Chinese: 梵網經; pinyin: fàn wǎng jīng, Japanese: bonmōkyō), meaning, The Discourse on the Net of Brahma is the Sanskrit title of a text of the Mahayana Buddhist canon

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hungry Dogs and Religious Icons

I can remember reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau many, many years ago. I was impressed with Thoreau’s simplicity and directness, and wondered how he came to some of the conclusions that are contained in this wonderful book. I eventually came to understand that he was a student of Ralph Waldo Emerson as well as being a student of the Bhagadva-Gita (I believe he had made an attempt at translating it in his lifetime), yet I remember reading the following passage from the book and wondering about another statement made by a rather unexpected great scholar about one thousand years earlier. Anyway, read the following passages and I will elaborate.

Nations are possessed with an insane ambition to perpetuate the memory of themselves by the amount of hammered stone they leave. What if equal pains were taken to smooth and polish their manners? One piece of good sense would be more memorable than a monument as high as the moon. I love better to see stones in place. The grandeur of Thebes was a vulgar grandeur. More sensible is a rod of stone wall that bounds an honest man's field than a hundred-gated Thebes that has wandered farther from the true end of life. The religion and civilization which are barbaric and heathenish build splendid temples; but what you might call Christianity does not. Most of the stone a nation hammers goes toward its tomb only. It buries itself alive. As for the Pyramids, this is nothing to wonder at in them so much as the fact that so many men could be found degraded enough to spend their lives construction a tomb for some ambitious booby, whom it would have been wiser and manlier to have drowned in the Nile, and then given his body to the dogs. I might possibly invest some excuse for them and him, but I have no time for it. As for the religion and love of art of the builders, it is much the same all the world over, whether the building be an Egyptian temple or the United States Bank.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Page 49

An eminent teacher once said, "Before Buddha was born and came to the Kapila Empire, he had already saved all beings.'' When Buddha was born, he took seven steps, looked in the four directions, pointed with one hand to the sky and with the other hand to the ground, and said, "In the sky above and the earth below, only I am holy.'' A disciple once mentioned these words of the baby Buddha to Chan Master Yunmen and asked what they meant. Yunmen said, "If I would have been there, I would have hit him with my stick and fed his body to a hungry dog. The whole world would then be at peace.''
Chan Master Yunmen

I was struck, all those years ago, by the similarity of the metaphors here. Thoreau and Yunmen are both trying to illuminate us to the deeper constructs that we personally create about holiness, sanctity and other worldliness. Both of these teachers saw the same solution, a radical departure from our normal thinking, an attempt to shock us into the present moment. The image of destroying the Icon in a rather violent way is not the typical philosophic or religious metaphor and the act of feeding the Icons to hungry dogs has always brought Thoreau and Yunmen closer together in my understanding of their teachings.

It seems that we (our societies that we live in) haven’t made much spiritual progress in the centuries since the appearance of the Upanishads, the teachings of Buddha, the teachings of Abraham, the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Mohammed. I, of course, am leaving out a number of other teachers who deserve to be on this list, but for the sake of brevity I choose not to list them all. We have developed science to a magnificent level and understand so much about our past and our history, but we still don’t understand the fundamentals of how to treat our neighbors.

It is important for all of us to understand that simple teaching of Jesus, “How can you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, when you have an 8 x 8 beam in your own eye?” Any thought system that teaches superiority is suspect. Any collection of constructs that are manipulated by the political powers to spread fear and hate should be looked at with a critical eye. The fundamentalism that exists in the United States is just as destructive as the fundamentalism that exists in Islam, in Israel, in Pakistan, in India, in Burma, ……. and on and on.

I would humbly request that if you are truly a spiritual seeker that you seek out the holy texts of other religions. I remember during the opening ceremony of the Huntington Beach Zen Center and my installation as Abbot years ago, Zen Master Seung Sahn said that he liked everything about the Zen Center with one exception. He told me that it was better than a twenty year old Zen Center in many aspects. He never missed a single detail in art, liturgy or form (this is my projection of course) yet he took me aside and commented to me right before the ceremony. He was casually looking at the library of books I had compiled (which was rather significant at the time) and he said that we had too many ‘Zen’ and ‘Buddhist’ books on the shelf. He said a real Zen library has books from all religions as well as from the science and the arts. He urged me to consider expanding the collection, as well as urging me to expand my interests in other religions, philosophies and arts.

After that ceremony I realized that I was quite ignorant of all the other religions, including Christianity and this led me to re-assess the direction I had been taking. Zen Master Seung Sahn’s comment eventually led me to read all the great Religious works of the world. So, I would again humbly ask that if you haven’t read the Bhagavad Gita, or the Upanishads, or the Daodeqing, or the Five Books of Moses, or the Koran, how can you have an opinion on the followers of those religions. We live in a society of prepackaged philosophy. We want our information delivered in “MTV” bytes, I mean watch a music Video, each scene lasts about five seconds, and our attention span has now shrunk to about five seconds.

I have been watching the PBS pledge drives of late and it seems that our old Guru, Dr. Wayne Dyer, is now being replaced with the new Guru of the modern age, Ekhart Tolle. I have nothing against either of these men, and I respect Dr. Dyer for giving credit to his roots. Mr. Tolle is teaching Zen Buddhism without the “Zen” and without the “Buddhism” and I find this very interesting. If Ekhart actually gave acknowledgement to the Buddhist roots of his teaching, would so many people follow him? I am not faulting him for this, nor do I wish him ill will, for he is helping many people to eradicate some of the suffering in their lives. It is just that we (and I mean society at large) are so ingrained in our ideas that we are willing to accept another religion as long as someone doesn’t mention where it came from.

Ideas and opinions are very powerful influences in our lives, if we give them life. Zen teaches that we must relinquish our ideas and opinions in order to find the truth. For those who have never taken the time to read the Koran, I will leave you with this final passage. And of course, if you have read the sacred book, thank you for your efforts in saving all sentient beings from suffering.

The external forms of all created people and things are like goblets, while such things as knowledge, art, and learning are decoration on the goblet. Don’t you see that when the goblet is shattered none of these “decorations” remain? The important thing therefore is the wine, which takes its shape from the goblet. Whoever sees and drinks the wine knows that good works are permanent.
Koran 18:46

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dao De Qing Chapter 2

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

I just love the Daodeqing, because of the simplicity of the texts. When we choose to create (or make) something, there is a residual opposite that is created inadvertently. We don't immediately recognize it nor do we usually acknowledge it. Once we make one, then the ten thousand things follow.

Zen Master Seung Sahn was always saying, "Don't make anything!" I always loved it when, at the end of morning practice he would say; "Don't make anything, don't make anything!"

If we can live free of our habit to label or create a new construct, then we can see the truth as it unfolds, in this very moment.
the translation is from Stephen Mitchell's Tao Te Ching translation. (Stephen Mitchell was the first Western Monk ordained by Zen Master Seung Sahn and was known as Mu Gak Sunim for 14 years)
Picture courtesy of Mu Sang Sunim (Zen Master Seung Sahn and Mu Sang Sunim)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Six Insights of the Mahayana

Based upon the Six Paramitas, the essential practices of the Bodhisattva to save all beings from suffering.

1. Generosity­—Dāna paramita Total relinquishment of ideas as to the duality of opposites. Insight into the existence and non-existence of all the Dharmas.
2. Precepts—Sila paramita No arising of perceptions, sensations, etc. Insight into form and emptiness.
3. Forebearance—Ksanti paramita No thinking, being affected by nothing. Insight into existence and the Middle Way.
4. Effort—Virya paramita No attachment to forms, no clinging or holding. Insight into the nature of phenomena.
5. Concentration—Dhyana paramita Dwelling on nothing a non-abiding of mind. Insight into the interpenetration of of all phenomenea.
6. Wisdom—Prajna paramita No indulgence in frivolous speech. Insight which realizes that phenomena themselves are the absolute.

These six methods are actually one, the names are merely for convenience. Understand that by a single act of relinquishment, everything is relinquished.

The Three Methods of Training

The path of being perfectly at ease and free of all dependence. The three methods of training at the same level. To realize that discipline, concentration and wisdom are all alike because their substance is intangible, therefore they are undivided and one.

1. Vinaya (Discipline) Freedom from all attachment and discrimination what-so-ever.
2. Dhyana (Concentration) stilling the mind to remain un-moved by surrounding phenomena.
3. Prajna (Wisdom) This stillness of mind is not marred by any thoughts about itself.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sucess in Numbers

This is an interesting video of nature, yet it is also a study in hope and tenacity. We have all seen nature on television and understand the hierarchy of animals and consider the Lion to be on the top of the food chain. Lions are cunning by nature and dominate their prey, this video shows an interesting outcome of what seems to be a sure trap and sudden death.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mantra Practice

A Mantra is a formula or a word with spiritual significance; however, when stripped of their Tantric undertones they become meaningless syllables which can help us to detach and relax very deeply. Mantra meditation is very easy to learn and effective in letting go of our attachment to thinking. Just repeating a mantra helps us to focus our attention on a single point and eventually reach a state of very deep rest. The regular practice of meditation can reduce our irritability and thus the feeling of being stressed, but more importantly is that continued mantra practice will reduce the time of recovery following all kinds of distressing situations.Mantra practice in juxtaposition with bowing practice can help cut through our karma very quickly.

Mantra practice should be done with a firm commitment by the student; however, it must not be looked upon as some sort of compulsion, this practice should be entered into lightly and with a strong commitment. During the first few weeks of practicing mantra meditation some students tend to become more sensitive to events that did not used to bother them. This is one reason why after beginning this type of practice it is important to consult your teacher to ensure the correct practice and effect. This practice should be undertaken during all quiet periods of the day when cognitive attention is not required. Examples would be: while driving a car, eating lunch, waiting for a bus, any time that doesn’t require us to use our conceptual thought should be filled with our mantra. Over time thoughts will emerge spontaneously and we will be tempted to follow them (this is our normal habitual pattern) and when we realize that we have strayed from our practice we must gently return to it over and over and over again. Try not to become judgmental about your practice. Thoughts and perceptions are simply allowed to come and go like single, detached events. During practice you just come back to repeating the mantra again without forcing yourself. Following are listed some of the common mantras used in our Zen practice. The explanation of their meanings and use are listed below the mantras.

Clear mind, clear mind, clear mind... Don’t Know
This mantra is intended to relieve the mind of a lot of thinking.

gaté, gaté, paragaté, parasamgaté, bodhi svaha
Litterally this mantra means: “gone, gone, gone beyond; opposites disappear, absolute appears”

Jijang Bosal
The Great Vow mantra: “I vow to save all beings”; helps the dead and the suffering.

Kwanseum Bosal
The Great Love and Great Compassion mantra which when invoked removes all kinds of suffering.

Namu Amita Bul
The Pure Land Mantra used to invoke the Western Paradise of Amitabha Buddha.

Namu–ata–shiji–nam–sammota–guchi–nam Om–ajana–baba–jiri–jiri–hum
This mantra is used to save all sentient beings stuck in Hell. If you try this, then Hell’s gates will be broken and all beings can come out.

This mantra is used to invite all the Buddhas of the ten directions.

This mantra envokes the Great Love and Great compassion of a mother’s mind and anytime there is a problem, if you try this, the problem will disappear.

Buddha taught that this world is complete, but it is our minds that are not complete. So this mantra helps our minds become complete and strong.

Namu–samanda–motdanam–abarji–hadasa–sananam–danyata Om–kaka–kahe–kahe–hum–hum–abara–abara–bara–abara–bara–abara Jita–jiri–jir–jir–badu–badu–sanjika–shiri–e–sabaha
For those with heavy karma this mantra will take away all good and bad, and all opposites, then cutting through this karma will become easy.

The Gods of the five directions (North, South, East, West and Center) are said to like the sound of this mantra, so when we do it, every god will hear our voice, and these gods will keep a clear mind and help us with our problems.

Namu Sogamuni Bul
This mantra for Śākyamuni Buddha is done to save all beings from suffering.

This is the universal mantra of truth. Chanting this mantra takes away everything.

This is the mantra of opening the Buddha’s true Dharma; it helps us to perceive the truth of this very moment.

This literally means; correct eyes, correct ears, and correct mouth. So if we have a problem seeing clearly, hearing clearly or speaking clearly, this mantra will help us.

A Pure Land Mantra that can assist in you in being reborn in the Western Paradise.

This mantra is used to clean the entire cosmos, so when your life seems cloudy and dark, this will clean all the darkness and bring forth brilliant illumination.

When the mind is chasing thoughts constantly this mantra opens the mind and results in a wide and spacious mind.

This mantra takes away all of your karma and allows you to see the truth and act appropriately.

This will protect the body so no bad energy can enter it, used when there is a sickness or to gain energy.

This mantra shatters the gates of Hell and opens the gate to nirvana.

This is an extra mantra (like an extra button on a shirt) it is used as a preventive measure even if things are going well.

This mantra is used for universal mystical energy, it can help you see through to your aspirations.

This is a mantra to begin ceremonies.

This is for when your mind is dark or small, when you cannot perform the correct actions. When cannot see and cannot hear correctly, this mantra will make your mind wide.

This is another mantra to clear away your karma and thereby help you to make changes in your life.

This mantra is for purification, when you need to purify the energy of a place that seems to have bad karma.

This is the universal mantra of repentance and is used to help correct an incorrect situation.

This is the last mantra in a ceremony – it is the ceremony is completed mantra.

This mantra will clean your mouth like your mom did when you were younger – it can rid you of bad speech and uncontrollable desires.