Friday, April 09, 2010

Compassion Without Illusion by Khenpo Kathar Rinpoche

AS WE GO THROUGH OUR LIVES, we undergo tremendous struggles; yet we do not seem able to accomplish or achieve what we would like. In addition, there are a great many undesirable things that we would like to avoid, but we are unable to do so. As a result of these conflicts, we experience a great deal of pain and suffering.

Yet the simple truth is that each and every one of us inherently possesses powerful resources. Each of us has the potential to experience true wisdom, or, for that matter, transcendent awareness; we have the potential to express gentleness and genuine compassion; we have the potential to generate great warmth and kindness towards ourselves and others; we have the potential to engender openness and patience. Nevertheless, we have misconceptions about ourselves and the world around us. We wrongly assume that that which we all desire--a true sense of well-being and contentment--comes from external situations, things outside of ourselves.

Armed with this erroneous notion, we try to solve our internal conflict and dissatisfaction externally. But the truth of the matter is that no matter how much we try to manipulate external things to secure a complete sense of well-being for ourselves, we will never have complete control over external reality. All along, we have been working with the wrong tools, overlooking the actual, workable potentialities and concentrating on superficial things, hoping something genuine and unconditioned will come out of that. But whatever is superficial runs counter to that which is genuinely true. This seems to be our basic problem, confusing our external situation with our own potential for internal well-being and mental harmony.

Another serious delusion we have is the unyielding primacy of our egocentricity, our "I for myself" attitude. We limit our perspective to our own happiness, our own satisfaction. We are concerned only with how we can make things better in our lives, and if it creates problems or inconveniences for anyone else, it doesn't matter, because we need this or that for ourselves. Thus we create a fence, or an enclosure, around ourselves. Once this egoistic mechanism has been constructed, it causes an upheaval of conflicting emotions, such as jealousy, aggression, and so forth.

When we limit our minds to a selfish notion of happiness and well-being, obstacles of all kinds will seem to arise spontaneously in order to thwart our plans or destroy what we have created around ourselves. Consequently, we respond to these obstacles with aggression or with jealousy, feeling that our private enclosure is being threatened or jeopardized. And we know from personal experience that when conflicting emotions are constantly running rampant in our lives, there is no possibility of experiencing or even appreciating any sense of well-being, goodness, or true sanity.

When we stop to think about it, we find our lives full of uncomfortable experiences. We all know certain individuals whose lives seem to be constantly plagued with problems, no matter where they are. Their relationships with other people do not work out, nor do their living or job arrangements. They try to find new acquaintances, or they move to another place, and that does not work out either. They find themselves in situations where it seems as if the world is isolating them. They feel as though they were excluded from the world, in some sense. In this way, wherever they go they have very painful experiences. This is caused by the tremendous expectations they have of others and of the world at large. Instead of recognizing that they have the inherent potential to experience this for themselves, no matter who they are or what their current situation is, it is as if they believe the world owes them the experience of well-being and goodness. Failing to acknowledge their own resourcefulness, they indulge in this deception and develop a sense of total deprivation about themselves.

There are other individuals who seem to have an atmosphere of pleasantness or friendliness around them, who have endearing personalities and are well mannered and cultured. Wherever these individuals go, they feel good about themselves and have healthy, positive attitudes about things. They can generously extend genuine warmth and offer others a genial smile. They are able to do this because there is an element of stability and gentleness, maybe even clarity, about their minds.

Our lives can be led in the same fashion. Since we basically experience our lives through the filter of our minds, the makeup of our minds will determine the quality of our lives. For instance, when we experience a very gentle, easy mind, we then allow ourselves to feel good about who we are, and the things that we do become enjoyable. We are able to enjoy the food we eat, and our interactions with others are very good. On the other hand, when we have a disturbed mind, a mind of aggression and jealousy, subject to the upheaval of conflicting emotions, we are not able to fully enjoy anything. Even if we are surrounded by the best of things--good companions, good food, and various other luxuries--we cannot enjoy them. In this case, it would not be too farfetched to say that our minds have flipped upside down, because all priorities are completely inverted. While we have the potential to be totally free from deception and to experience genuine love for ourselves and others, we still entertain ourselves with the illusion of limitations. We believe that our only resort is to change the phenomenal world outside of ourselves.

Hence, while we strive for well-being and an experience of life that is free of suffering, as long as we are not free from conflicting emotions such as aggression and jealousy, we are never going to be free from dissatisfactions of one kind or another.

As you begin to understand this predicament, you may start entertaining various solutions to it in your mind, thinking that perhaps you should retreat to a secluded place where you would be free of the objects that arouse aggressive and jealous tendencies. But this would not solve the problem. These conflicting emotions are mental patterns, and even if we go to a place of seclusion, we are going to take these habits with us. And just as we usually do, we will then open up a world of speculation (What went wrong in the past? What good or bad things might happen in the future?) and create a mental world that will become the basis for further intensification and amplification of these conflicting emotions.

The solution to our problem is basically quite simple. Since the problem begins with the mind, we must go where the problem is, and work with the mind. As was mentioned earlier, although our minds have become weakened by conflicting emotions and habitual tendencies, we do have the potential to become completely self-liberated of these conditionings and to express our inherent freshness in the true, unconditioned heart of compassion and loving-kindness. Loving-kindness, or maitri, is a Buddhist term denoting the sincere desire for others to experience happiness and well-being. And when this happiness is achieved, there is genuine rejoicing.

Most of us are vaguely familiar with this attitude, because we are able to feel that way when our friends or relatives experience good fortune, and when something is going well for them, we want it to continue. We are also familiar with the attitude of compassion in a general sense. When friends or relatives are experiencing difficulties, we genuinely wish for them to become free of these sufferings. We have these basic qualities, but our experience of loving-kindness and compassion is, shall we say, tainted. It is something like the toy we call a yo-yo: you play with it and make it spin, but there is always a string attached. Similarly, we can afford genuine sympathy, concern, and loving-kindness for these people because they are our relatives, our friends, because they somehow seem to fit within our territory. There is a string attached; the pull is back towards ourselves. Therefore, egocentric tendencies and fixations remain, so these experiences are contaminated and are not free from deception. Still, although we have not worked on developing these qualities, we have glimpses of them because they are inherent potentialities.

At present, our experience of the mind has the shortcomings and defects of habitual conditionings. At the same time, our mind has the potential to become completely free of defects and limitations. The difference between the defects and the potential is great; the defects are entirely extraneous to the mind, while the potential is inherent. Therefore, no matter how serious our present limitations may be, we can work with our minds and achieve a state completely free of such limitations.

To put it another way, as long as we are experiencing a defect like jealousy or envy, we cannot experience loving-kindness. And when we are experiencing loving-kindness, we cannot experience jealousy or envy. The two cannot happen at the same time. To be jealous is to desire someone else's well-being and success for yourself. To experience loving-kindness, on the other hand, is to be happy for others and rejoice when you witness their well-being and success, whether it be of a material or a spiritual nature. Jealousy runs completely counter to this disposition. In a similar fashion, when you experience genuine compassion, you cannot simultaneously experience hatred, anger, or aggression. As long as there is the one, it will displace the other.

The Buddhist teachings instruct us to practice true loving-kindness and compassion, but, in order to genuinely do so, perhaps you should first sit down and allow yourself a few moments of reflection. Become aware of the fact that each day is spent in constant restlessness, constant striving, constant preoccupation. This is how it has always been, because you do not want to experience suffering, pain, or discomfort; you want to experience well-being and contentment. You want to feel good about your life, you want your life to be meaningful. Your experience of life is meaningful to you; that is why you are continuously striving, constantly busy.

Just as you want to avoid the experience of suffering, and just as you want to experience happiness and well-being, so too does each and every being want to avoid suffering and to experience its own well-being. This is a fundamental truth, no matter what their way of life is or how it may appear. This being so, how could you then cause suffering to anybody else? Knowing that you would not like others to inflict sufferings upon you, how could you inflict suffering upon others?

This is why it is necessary to work with the mind. You may not immediately be able to wipe away the sufferings of others on any grand scale, or immediately be able to permeate the lives of each and every being with happiness and well-being. But you can certainly cease to harm yourself and others. To brush it aside just because the results are not immediately tangible, and then continue to harm yourself and others, would reveal an attitude lacking in true understanding and compassion.

As we have seen, the conflicting emotions jealousy, anger, aggression, and so forth--cause harm, and genuine loving-kindness and compassion bring about well-being and happiness. As is said in the teachings, "The best protection, for oneself and for others, is true loving-kindness and compassion." Again, since we have the potential, we must begin to work with our minds and use the mind's potential to free itself of defects. Furthermore, we have to scrutinize our lives and what we feel to be the purpose of our lives. Then, if we have achieved any level of clarity, we will realize that an adjustment of our minds is essential. We must become more thoughtful and considerate. We cannot afford to act on impulse, driven by the upheaval of conflicting emotions, causing harm to ourselves and others both in the present and in the future.

It is not, however, easy to become victorious over our confusion and illusions. It is as if our minds have walled themselves in. We must begin to break through the barriers of our conditionings. In the teachings of the Buddha, the way to generate an accommodating, open mind is through the practice of sitting meditation, known in Tibetan as shinay. Shi means stability, tranquility, or harmony. Nay means to dwell or to stay. So, shinay literally means to dwell in stability, in tranquility.

Although we may understand the importance of experiencing a noble heart of compassion and loving-kindness, when it comes to actually practicing it, our egoistic patterns will invariably obstruct or deflect our intentions. This is why we must first train our chaotic and constantly distracted minds through the practice of basic meditation. This will help us to develop a habitually centered and tranquil mind. One of the most seriously detrimental attitudes we can take is to view ego's negative habitual patterns as permanent aspects of our personalities, to attribute such defects as anger or jealousy to our natures. It is very harmful and destructive to make no effort, to simply say, "I can't do anything about it because it's my nature." From the point of view of Buddhist psychology, and even of basic common sense, this is faulty reasoning. The experience of anger, jealousy, or aggression is an experience of the mind. It arises because of habitual patterns, because of mental conditionings. When we say something is a part of our nature, it makes it seem to be a permanent, unchangeable thing. But the mind is the easiest thing to change.

On the other hand, if we were talking about the body, maybe that would be harder to change. For instance, Rinpoche says, now that he has become an old man, no matter how much he wants to be a young person, it is not going to happen. It is difficult to change these physical things. But the mind is the easiest thing to change. As we know from experience, just one little thing can make someone extremely happy. And just one little thing can make someone raging mad. It does not take anything major to set the mind reeling in one direction or the other, because it changes so easily. So we cannot make excuses and claim that limitations are a part of our "nature," because they are not, and there is no way to prove that they are.

Excerpt of a teaching given by Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche on December 16, 1986 at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Bodhicitta Prayer

With a wish to free all beings
I shall always go for refuge
To the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha,
Until I reach full enlightenment

Enthused by wisdom and compassion,
today in the Buddhas' presence
I generate the Mind for Full Awakening
For the benefit of all sentient beings

As long as space remains,
As long as sentient beings remain,
Until then, may I too remain
And dispel the miseries of the world

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

A Life of One Piece by Sharon Salzberg

From the beginning of my practice, I was very moved by the sense of the Buddha as an integrated being. Most of us can easily experience our lives as somehow fragmented, divided. We might feel perfectly full of lovingkindness, strongly in touch with the radiant essence of our being when we’re alone, but as soon as we're with other people, it's very difficult. Or we might feel fine when we're with other people, but feel quite ill at ease when we are alone. We might relate one way at work, a different way in the context of our families.

Our lives can easily be experienced as split up into these little bundles, whereas for a being like the Buddha, it is seamless. There are no parts, there's no division, there's no fragmentation. His life was of one piece, with threads of wisdom and compassion guiding his actions whether he was alone or with others, wandering through India or being still; teaching or meditating. I found that tremendously inspiring.


The living tradition that is our heritage is his example of a life of harmlessness and compassion plus the body of the teachings. This Buddha, our Buddha you might say, arose in India in this world around 563 BC. He came to birth as a human being, just as we did. His questions, his very compelling questions, were about the nature of life. It's as though he were asking, “What does it mean to be born into this human body, to be so vulnerable and dependent as an infant, to grow up, to grow older whether we like it or not, to die even as we see all others die around us?”

“What does it mean to have this human mind which seems to veer constantly from one extreme to the other, always changing, so that we might wake up in the morning delighted to be alive, full of faith, really happy, by the afternoon we're frightened, we're angry, we feel guilty, we question our very right to be happy. It seems incomprehensible to us. And then at night it's something different again.”

“What does it mean as a human being to look for happiness, peace, joy, that is not confined within the body, within that changing mind? Is there a happiness, is there a peace that is not a compounded thing subject to change, to destruction as conditions change?”

He had questions in effect that are very similar to our own. As he phrased the call to awakening for himself, he said, "Why should I who am subject to birth, old age, sickness, death, sorrow, and suffering, seeing the danger in these things, why should I take refuge in that which is also subject to change, to death, to sorrow, to suffering? Let me find that which is changeless, which is deathless, which is without sorrow, which is unborn and undying, that is a true refuge." And in fact this is what he found. He found his true refuge.

We say a human being sat under a tree in Northern India 2500 years ago, motivated by compassion, brought there, moved there on a wave of moral force. At dusk he was attacked by Mara, that legendary figure, a tempter. And yet he kept his resolve, he just kept on sitting there. Throughout the night, which was a full moon night in May, he sat, and he saw the conditioned nature of suffering, sorrow, grief, loss, and death. He traced it back until he came to ignorance.

As the night went on, he saw not only the roots of ignorance, but the means of liberation. He saw suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, and the path to the end of suffering. At the first light of dawn, just as the star Venus broke in the morning sky, he saw through the very last trace of ignorance in himself and was completely enlightened. And that is why, all these years later, we know of a path that can free us.


'Bodhi' is Sanskrit for Enlightenment and 'Citta' means Mind. It refers to the wish to attain enlightenment (become a Buddha) for the benefit of all sentient beings. A 'Bodhisattva' is a being (sattva) with the bodhicitta motivation.
A short story:

An enthusiastic student asks his teacher: "Master, what can I do to help all the suffering beings in this world?" The teacher answers: "Indeed, what can you do?"

So, even if I am genuAdd Imageinely concerned about the welfare of others, when I am hopelessly lost in my own problems, trying to deal with the world, how can I help others? I would be like jumping into a river where someone is drowning, when I cannot swim myself...

Therefore, I should first learn to swim myself, learn to deal with my problems, learn how to become liberated from my problems, or at best, become all-knowing or enlightened. The realisation comes: "change the world, start with myself".
This idea is called Bodhicitta: the wish to become an omniscient Buddha so I can be of perfect help for others.

But in order to collect enough positive momentum (Karma) to become a Buddha, I also need to help others as much as possible on my path. But I should realise that at this moment my help is limited, simply because I don't know all the results of my actions.

A short real story as example: one time at Tushita Meditation Center in Dharamsala, India, people who were in a meditation course decided to collect money for the beggars after hearing the benefits of generosity. When looking the next day to hand out the money, only one beggar could be found. The generous people decided to give this beggar all the money. A couple of days later, the beggar was found dead in the street: he had drunk himself to death with all the money.....

Also while helping others, we should not forget the goal of becoming a Buddha to of much more help; therefore ideally, one should be mindful of dedicating any positive energy to this goal.

Some reflections by the Indian saint Shantideva:

Whatever joy there is in this world
All comes from desiring others to be happy,
And whatever suffering there is in this world,
All comes from desiring myself to be happy.

But what need is there to say much more?
The childish work for their own benefit,
The Buddhas work for the benefit of others.
Just look at the difference between them!

Or, as Shantideva reflected the far-reaching thought of Bodhicitta:

May I become food and drink in the aeons of famine for those poverty-stricken suffers.

May I be a doctor, medicine and nurse for all sick beings in the world until everyone is cured.

May I become never-ending wish-fulfilling treasures materialising in front of each of them as all the enjoyments they need.

May I be a guide for those who do not have a guide, a leader for those who journey, a boat for those who want to cross over, and all sorts of ships, bridges, beautiful parks for those who desire them, and light for those who need light.

And may I become beds for those who need a rest, and a servant to all who need servants.

May I also become the basic conditions for all sentient beings, such as earth or even the sky, which is indestructible.

May I always be the living conditions for all sentient beings until all sentient beings are enlightened.

The realisation of Bodhicitta is quite profound, as it is obviously not easy to (automatically) put the welfare of others above one's own welfare. Someone who lives with this realisation is called a Bodhisattva: in all respects a genuine saint.

It may be interesting to note that His Holiness the Dalai Lama considered Mother Theresa a Bodhisattva, and Jesus as well; so Bodhisattvas are not necessarily Buddhists!

"Bodhicitta or the altruistic aspiration to attain Enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings is a state of mind which cannot be cultivated or generated within one's mental continuum simply by praying for it to come into being in one's mind. Nor will it come into existence by simply developing the understanding of what that mind is. One must generate that mind within one's mind's continuum.

In order to engage in meditation with sustained effort over a period of time what is crucial is first of all to be convinced of the positive qualities of that mind, and the benefits and merits of generating such a state of mind. It is only when one has seen the qualities, merits and benefits of generating such a state of mind that one will be able to generate within oneself a genuine enthusiasm and perseverance in engaging in a meditation which would enable the individual to generate the mind."
His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Heart Sutra by Thich Nhat Hahn

Perhaps because of both its profundity and its brevity, the Heart Sutra is the most familiar of all the original teachings of the Buddha. (The Sino-Japanese version comprises a mere 262 characters.) Recited daily by Buddhists in China, Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan, Nepal, the Heart Sutra is now also recited by many Buddhists in North America. The Sino-Japanese and monosyllabic Korean versions lend themselves well to chanting, and there are now several English translations. The basic text of the Zen tradition, it must also be the only sutra to be found (in Japan) printed on a man's tie.

According to Buddhist lore, the Heart Sutra was first preached on Vulture Peak, which lies near the ancient Indian city of Rajagraha, and is said to have been the Buddha's favorite site.

In this sutra, the Buddha inspires one of his closest disciples, Sariputra, to request Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion, to instruct him in the practice of prajnaparamita, the perfection of wisdom. Avalokitesvara's response contains one of the most celebrated of all Buddhist paradoxes "form is emptiness; emptiness is form." And the sutra ends with one of the most popular Buddhist mantras-gate gateparagate parasarngate bodhi svaha: gone, gone, gone beyond, gone completely beyond:(When chanted, gate has two short vowels with the accent on the first syllable.)

The tradition of composing commentary on the Heart Sutra goes back to at least the eighth century, and includes many of the great Buddhist philosophers and meditation masters. What follows here are versions of the sutra and excerpts from some contemporary commentaries addressed to Westerners.

Shakyamuni Buddha

PERFECT UNDERSTANDING is prajnaparamita. The word "wisdom" is usually used to translate prajna, but I think that wisdom is somehow not able to convey the meaning. Understanding is like water flowing in a stream. Wisdom and knowledge are solid and can block our understanding. In Buddhism, knowledge is regarded as an obstacle for understanding. If we take something to be the truth, we may cling to it so much that even if the truth comes and knocks at our door, we won't want to let it in. We have to be able to transcend our previous knowledge the way we climb up a ladder. If we are on the fifth rung and think that we are very high, there is no hope for us to step up to the sixth. We must learn to transcend our own views. Understanding, like water, can flow, can penetrate. Views, knowledge, and even wisdom are solid, and can block the way of understanding.

Avalokita found the five skandhas empty. But, empty of what? The key word is empty. To be empty is to be empty of something.

If I am holding a cup of water and I ask you, "Is this cup empty?" you will say, "No, it is full of water." But if I pour out the water and ask you again, you may say, "Yes, it is empty." But, empty of what? Empty means empty of something. The cup cannot be empty of nothing.

"Empty" doesn't mean anything unless you know empty of what. My cup is empty of water, but it is not empty of air. To be empty is to be empty of something. This is quite a discovery. When Avalokita says that the five skandhas are equally empty, to help him be precise we must ask, "Mr. Avalokita, empty of what?"

The five skandhas, which may be translated into English as five heaps, or five aggregates, are the five elements that comprise a human being. These five elements flow like a river in every one of us. In fact, these are really five rivers flowing together in us: the river of form, which means our body, the river of feelings, the river of perceptions, the river of mental formations, and the river of consciousness. They are always flowing in us. So according to Avalokita, when he looked deeply into the nature of these five rivers, he suddenly saw that all five are empty.

And if we ask, "Empty of what?" he has to answer. And this is what he said: "They are empty of a separate self." That means none of these five rivers can exist by itself alone. Each of the five rivers has to be made by the other four. They have to co-exist; they have to inter-be with all the others.

Avalokita looked deeply into the five skandhas of form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness, and he discovered that none of them can be by itself alone. Each can only inter-be with all the others. So he tells us that form is empty. Form is empty of a separate self, but it is full of everything in the cosmos. The same is true with feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness.

Thus have I heard. Once the Blessed One was dwelling in Rajagriha at Vulture Peak mountain, together with a great gathering of the sangha of monks and a great gathering of the sangha of bodhisattvas. At that time the Blessed One entered the samadhi that expresses the dharma called "profound illumination," and at the same time noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, while practicing the profound prajnaparamita, saw in this way: he saw the five skandhas to be empty of nature. Then, through the power of the Buddha, venerable Shariputra said to noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, "How should a son or daughter of noble family train, who wishes to practice the profound prajnaparamita?" Addressed in this way, noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, said to venerable Shariputra, "O Shariputra, a son or daughter of noble family who wishes to practice the profound prajnaparamita should see in this way: seeing the five skandhas to be empty of nature. Form is emptiness; emptiness also is form. Emptiness is no other than form; form is no other than emptiness. In the same way, feeling, perception, formation, and consciousness are emptiness. Thus, Shariputra, all dharmas are emptiness. There are no characteristics. There is no birth and no cessation. There is no impurity and no purity. There is no decrease and no increase. Therefore, Shariputra, in emptiness, there is no form, no feeling, no perception, no formation, no consciousness; no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no appearance, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no dharmas; no eye dhatu up to no mind dhatu, no dhatu of dharmas, no mind consciousness dhatu; no ignorance, no end of ignorance up to no old age and death, no end of old age and death; no suffering, no origin of suffering, no cessation of suffering, no path, no wisdom, no attainment, and no nonattainment. Therefore, Shariputra, since the bodhisattvas have no attainment, they abide by means of prajnaparamita. Since there is no obscuration of mind, there is no fear. They transcend falsity and attain complete nirvana. All the buddhas of the three times, by means of prajnaparamita, fully awaken to unsurpassable, true, complete enlightenment. Therefore, the great mantra of prajnaparamita, the mantra of great insight, the unsurpassed mantra, the unequaled mantra, the mantra that calms all suffering, should be known as truth, since there is no deception. The prajnaparamita mantra is said in this way:


Thus, Shariputra, the bodhisattva mahasattva should train in the profound prajnaparamita." Then the Blessed One arose from that samadhi and praised noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, saying, "Good, good, O son of noble family; thus it is, O son of noble family, thus it is. One should practice the profound prajnaparamita just as you have taught and all the tathagatas will rejoice." When the Blessed One had said this, venerable Shariputra and noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, that whole assembly and the world with its gods, humans, asuras, and gandharvas rejoiced and praised the words of the Blessed One.

The Heart Sutra - Buddhism's Key Concepts, Part 4

The Bodhisattva depends on Prajna Paramita, and the mind is no hindrance, without any hindrance no fears exist. Far apart from ever perverted view one dwells in Nirvana. In the three worlds all Buddhas depend on Prajna Paramita and attain Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi.

Avalokitesevara Mandala

When thoughts and analysis are stopped the world is perceived as it is. Perverted views are any qualities one gives to dharmas. Without the hindrance of wrong views we gain Prajna Paramita, the knowing beyond knowing and find Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi, the supreme awakening. Again we are presented with a paradox. In the last verse it says "no attainment, with nothing to attain" in this it says supreme awakening can be attained. What does this mean?

Therefore know that Prajna Paramita is the great transcendent mantra . . .

The sutra now shifts from diagnosis to prescription. It recommends a way to find the goal-less goal. Simply repeat the prajna paramita mantra:

Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha.
Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone all together beyond, awaken, all hail

This line is left untranslated from the Sanskrit in the different Asian versions. Mantra meditation has been used in India for thousands of years and was appropriated by the Buddhists. By concentrating on a phrase thinking is cut off, opening the way for awakening.

As with any other method there is no guarantee, but what we may find along the path is often helpful. Even if we do not find supreme awakening in this lifetime, perhaps we can find the still, empty eye in the center of the hurricane. Even if we do not know interdependence, by trying to understand it we can see that all life is related and have compassion for our fellow beings. As we chant the Heart Sutra we should be mindful of the teachings it summarizes and apply them to our lives.

The Heart Sutra - Buddhism's Key Concepts, Part 3

The cycle starts when an individual becomes aware of itself as a being separete from the universe. It becomes ignorent of its true nature and this leads to metal activity (karma). Karma leads to consciousness which leads to metal and physical phenomena. This is the opposite of the way we usually think of creation. For the Buddhists, the mind itself creates the phenomenal world. Here we see the five skandas come into play as the self becomes aware of the objective world though the senses. When the self becomes aware of the other, desire arises. "I want what is outside myself." It has forgotten through ignorance that the object is just a creation of its own mind. Desire leads to grasping, trying to get something, which leads to becomming and birth, the consciousness has taken physical form. Now physical form is subject to all the ill of the world: pain, decay, sickness, old and and ultimatly death. From death arises ignorance and the process starts over again.

Buddha Shakyamuni

The process of Buddhist meditation and practice is to reverse the cycle. Through the extinction of ignorance, karma ceases, and so on,up to the ceasation of birth, meaning escape from the the cycle of birth and death (samsara), into nirvana, the stopping of the cycle.

Yet, the Heart Sutra says "no ignorance and also no extinction of it" and the same for the other twelve factors. In this process there is no first cause and there is no self-being. Each factor in the process is relative and interdependent with the other twelve factors and therefore empty.
No suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path, no cognition also no attainment with nothing to attain.

This verse refers to the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha:

1. Suffering (samsara) Suffering is endemic to life, even if we have our physical needs met, we still feel uneasy, there is something missing in our lives.

2. Origination (samudaya)The origination of suffering is clinging. We attach ourselves to material objects or to ideas and become obsessed with things that are ultimately transient.

3. Stopping (nirvana)

4. Path (marga) The path to escaping the cycle of samsara is the eight categories or the eight-fold path:

right understanding

right thoughts

right speech

right action

right livelihood

right effort

right mindfulness

right meditation

When you have stopped this cycle you attain nirvana, yet this verse denies attainment. This is the emptiness of emptiness. If you are clinging to emptiness, it cannot be emptiness.

The Heart Sutra - Buddhism's Key Concepts, Part 2

All dharmas are marked with emptiness they do not appear or disappear are not tainted or pure do not increase or decrease.

The term dharmas here is different from The Dharma, the way or the teaching. Dharmas are factors of existence. The five skandhas are dharmas as are any other bit of consciousness-information. The Hinayana schools sought to analyze the dharmas and give them qualities such as arising or disappearing, increasing or decreasing, but the Mahayanists realized that dharmas are empty without qualities.


Therefore in Emptiness no form, no feelings, perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

This is the conclusion of the argument, the five skandhas are empty, since they are interdependent dharmas and have no self-qualities.

No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue. no body, no mind, no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind, no realm of eyes and so forth until no realm of mind consciousness.

This is a related result of the above argument. Perception is divided into the six senses of Buddhism: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, mind. We usually think of the mind as separate from the other senses, but when we are conscious of an object or we dream or think of something that is not in front of us, our mind acts as a sense organ. Each sense has three parts, the organ of sense, its object, and its realm of consciousness (datu). For example the eye sees the color green which gives rise to the consciousness of green. Again each of these parts is empty, since they are interdependent and cannot be separated. Three parts and six senses gives us the eighteen elements of experience, enumerated in this verse.

No ignorance and also no extinction of it and so forth until no old age and death and also no extinction of them.

This verse refers to the Twelve Link Chain of Causation or The Cycle of Interdependence (pratityasamutpada):

1. From ignorance (avida) arises volitional action

2. From volitional action (karma) arises consciousness

3. From consciousness (vijnana) arises mental and physical phenomena

4. From mental and physical phenomena (nama-rupa) arises the six senses

5. From the six senses (shadayatana) arises sensorial contact

6. From contact (spasha) arises sensation

7. From sensation (vedana) arises desire

8. From desire (trishna) arises grasping

9. From grasping (upadana) arises the process of becoming

10. From the process of becoming (bhava) arises birth

11. From birth (jeti) arises death, pain, decay . . .

12. From sickness, old age and death (jana-marana), sorrow, lamentation, suffering and distress occur. Thus arises the whole mass of suffering

The Heart Sutra - Buddhism's Key Concepts, Part 1

The Heart Sutra is a teaching by the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of Compassion, to the monk Shariputra. It is chanted regularly by followers of Buddhism at meetings and meditation practice. Although The Heart Sutra is very brief it contains key concepts of Buddhist Philosophy. These include the skandhas, the four noble truths, the cycle of interdependence and the central concept of Mahayana Buddhism, Emptiness.

Mahayana means the great vehicle, it is the Buddhism of China, Tibet, Japan and Korea. It arose around the first or second century CE as a reaction against several highly analytical schools of Buddhism which had developed in the 600 years since the time of the Buddha. These schools were referred to as Hinayana, the lesser vehicle by the Mahayanists. Zen, which appeared around 800, in China is considered a school of Mahayana.


The Heart Sutra begins:

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, When practicing deeply the Prajna-paramita perceives that all five skandhas are empty and is saved from all suffering and distress.

Avalokitesvara is an enlightened being, a Bodhisattva, who has forgone his own entry into Nirvana so that he can help others. As the embodiment of compassion he is called on by traditional practitioners of Buddhism in times of crisis. In the Heart Sutra he has realized emptiness through the practice of Prajna-paramita (infinite wisdom) and is preacing to the monk Shariputra.

That which is form is emptiness that which is emptiness form. What is Emptiness? Emptiness is how we translate the Sanskrit noun Sunyata. The adjective form is Sunya, Empty.

Does Emptiness mean that Buddhists believe that nothing exists? No, Emptiness is not nothingness. It is the other side of interdependence (pratityasamutpada). All things are interrelated, you cannot take out an object and say this is here in and of itself. Its existence has no self-being (svabhava). This is explained further by Avalokitesvara using the five skandhas. The same is true of feelings, form, perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

These are the five skandhas (aggregates): form, feelings, perceptions, impulses, consciousness. It is how we are aware.

Form is the solid object, the color or the sound that is interdependent with the other skandhas. For example a hot stove.

Feeling is the act of the sense organ contacting the object. The skin feels, the eye sees, the ears hear. For example when the skin comes in contact with a hot stove.

Perception is the first sensational awareness of the object. For example the skin becomes hot when it touches the stove.

Impulse is the unconscious reaction to the object. We place our hand on a hot stove and our impulse is to pull it away, before we even think.

Consciousness is mental awareness of the object. One feels the heat on the hand and thinks, "Ouch!"

Each of the skandhas is empty, since it cannot exist on its own, it is dependent on the four other skandhas. Like a set of blocks forming a house, the entire structure is dependent on its pieces, you can't point to one block and say that block alone is the house.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Freedom From The Tug of Desire

The Ties that Unbind

By Andrew Olendzki

Imagine what would happen if you took six lengths of rope and tied one end of each to six creatures: a snake, a crocodile, a bird, a dog, a jackal, and a monkey. Then tie the other end of all these into a big knot and let go. What do you think would happen? Each of these animals would pull in a different direction, trying to return to their favorite haunts. The snake would slither toward its nest in the anthill, the crocodile would pull for the river, the bird would fly up into the air, the dog would head to the village, the jackal to the charnel ground, and the monkey would scamper for the trees. Can you picture such a scene?

The Buddha tells this story in the Samyutta Nikaya (35.247) to illustrate the state of the undisciplined mind, wherein each of the six senses (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind) is drawn to its own domain and to its customary feeding grounds in the pursuit of pleasure. He describes this situation as dwelling with a limited mind, wherein a person has no freedom whatsoever. The solution he offers is to drive a stake through the central knot into the ground, thus binding all six animals to the spot. The stake represents mindfulness of the body, and it is the means of attaining freedom.

How can this be? Surely this turns our ordinary notion of freedom on its head and offers something thoroughly counterintuitive, if not downright paradoxical. Usually we consider ourselves free only when we can do what we want, and we would consider being tethered to a post the worst kind of bondage. But let’s look at the image a bit more closely and try to figure out what the Buddha has in mind here.

Each of these six creatures thinks it’s free if it can go where it wants, but in fact each is bound in several ways. First, it is compelled by instinct to pursue pleasure and avoid pain; next, it generally only knows to seek its gratification in accustomed places; and finally, it can only make headway toward its desired object if it gains a temporary advantage in the tug-of-war with the others. Before long each animal will expend its energy in the struggle, and will eventually be dragged around by whichever is the strongest. (My money is on the crocodile.)

The six senses of the human mind and body are bound by an internal constraint more compelling than any rope or stake, insofar as they will always pull in the direction of agreeable objects and away from disagreeable objects. From the Buddha’s perspective, the freedom to act on compulsion is an illusory sense of freedom concocted by a constricted and profoundly deluded mind. It’s a bit like telling an addict she is free to stop using drugs if she wants, or like telling an inmate of an island prison he should feel free to go anywhere on the island he chooses.
Mindfulness practice offers the restraint necessary to overcome the tug of desire upon the senses. As we notice the mind wandering off to explore a gratifying train of thought, or as we notice the body’s urging to nudge ourselves into a more comfortable position, we gently abandon the impulse and return attention to the primary object of awareness. We do this again and again, until the mind becomes content with being fully present with what is manifesting here and now in the field of experience, rather than rushing off for some other form of stimulation. As the mind settles down it becomes considerably more powerful, and thus more empowered.

The story told by the Buddha ends in a lovely picture of all six animals lying down contentedly in one another’s company, no longer exerting themselves, no longer yearning for something else. Similarly, when the tug of sense desire and aversion has been quieted, when restlessness and sluggishness have been balanced out, and when doubts are put aside for a time, the mind is able to attend to experience more openly and with much greater freedom. With the senses no longer struggling to reach pleasing forms and no longer regarding unpleasing forms as repulsive, the mind is able to see more clearly what is actually arising and falling away.

In this mode the mind is said to be unlimited, and to be capable of experiencing a greater freedom through wisdom. Its freedom comes not from the license to broadly explore a shallow terrain, defined by its likes and dislikes, but rather from the ability to shake off the constraints of desire altogether and plunge deeply into investigating the field of experience as it is. It turns out that what one sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches, or thinks is not as important as how one does so.

We are used to thinking of freedom as being free to do what we want, but the Buddha sees it as being free from wanting. We tend to think of the post as the fetter and freedom as the ability to obtain agreeable objects of sense. The Buddha considers the pursuit of pleasure to be the fetter, while the mindfulness post represents our chance to break free of its bonds. This is indeed a different way of thinking of things; but perhaps he is pointing to something worth investigating. Perhaps internal freedom is ultimately more valuable than external freedom.

Andrew Olendzki, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in Barre, Massachusetts. He is the editor of Insight Journal.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Meaning of Taking Refuge

Venerable Lama Karma Samten Gyatso responds to queries:
Question: Please would you say something about Taking Refuge?

Answer: Taking Refuge is a decision of commitment to Buddhism. It is also a commitment to practice from that day forward. The principle of Taking Refuge also means a commitment of taking care of yourself and others.

When we Take Refuge it is in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Buddha is our destination and Ultimate Refuge, Dharma is the Path, and the Sangha are our Spiritual Friends. These are the Three External Objects of Refuge.
The Three Internal Objects of Refuge are your Body, Speech and Mind. Your Body is the Sangha, your Speech is the Dharma and your Mind is the Buddha. Mind is regarded as the Ultimate Refuge because, when you die, it is the mind that continues. The external objects of your Body, Speech and Mind are left behind.

Mind, in its Ultimate form, has three different aspects. These are the Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya. Dharmakaya is the Ultimate aspect of Enlightenment, Sambhogakaya is the communication aspect between the Nirmanakaya and Dharmakaya, and Nirmanakaya is the manifestation aspect.

When you analyze your mind, you are unable to find it. This part of Emptiness is called Dharmakaya. It may be un-findable but none-the-less there is something there. This is the communication aspect, the Sambhogakaya. The recognition of how-ever many thoughts arise in your mind is the manifestation aspect, the Nirmanakaya. As these three forms are the ultimate qualities of your mind, they are the Ultimate Objects of Refuge. This is what constitutes the Ultimate Refuge: Dharmakaya is the Buddha, Sambhogakaya is the Dharma, and Nirmanakaya the Sangha.

By Taking Refuge, you make a commitment to take care of and respect the teachings. This also means you take care of your mind because your mind is the Ultimate Refuge. As these same qualities are to be found in the minds of every sentient being, you must also respect all other beings as well.

So, this is the sort of discipline involved in Taking Refuge.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Taking Refuge - Becoming a Buddhist Part 4

The Refuge ceremony is reminiscent of the mediaeval ritual of swearing fealty to a liege lord. He/she offered protection and the possibility of improving one's lot in life, and the vassal offers his service in exchange. The important difference here is that you are not primarily taking refuge in the human before you, but in the Three Jewels. Also, it is up to you to maintain the relation; there are no threats involved.

You can also take refuge more than once, if you desire. Sometimes people want to renew their commitment or to have the experience with a different representative of the 3 Jewels, or in a different Buddhist tradition -- or even to get a "nicer" name. It is reported, however, that people who do that just to get a new dharma name, often find the "new" name is similar to the old!

On May 21, 2008, while at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in Woodstock, NY while on his first visit to the West, HH Karmapa said that there are two aspects to taking refuge: Anyone can readily Take Refuge in the 3 Jewels, but to take the Vows of Refuge, is a more serious undertaking. One must aspire to abjure certain things, such as : not to intentionally take any life; another is not to frequent bad companions; ie, those who could lead us from our chosen path.

Taking Refuge - Becoming a Buddhist Part 3

Finally, you will be given a new name symbolic of your "entering the stream" and will again repeat the formula but now with the identity of a new Buddhist.

Finally, you will be given a new name symbolic of your "entering the stream" and will again repeat the formula but now with the identity of a new Buddhist.

There will usually be an opportunity at the end, for the congregation to file up past the lama's chair or lectern for a few words, a "membership card" with the lineage of transmission and dharma name, and for blessings. The traditional greeting from you is the presentation of a thin white silk (or simili-silk -- rayon) scarf called a katta.

A katta or kathag, is a sheer white silk scarf used in the Tibetan culture as offerings to people instead of the garland of marigolds or other flowers used in India (and Polynesia.) In Mongolian practice, the scarf is blue.

Often the teacher will return it by placing it around your shoulders as a form of blessing. Those wishing to make a monetary (or other) offering to the lama can do so at this time. It is usually prepared beforehand by putting it in a white or red envelope. Then when the katta is offered you can place it on the lama's table. Otherwise, you can offer a gift of money to be passed on later by an attendant or sangha member.

This offering is, again, in the tradition of Indian guru and student. In ancient times, people desirous of certain precious teachings were put to the test. Along with patience and devotion, generosity is a very important quality in the student. They sometimes donated all that they owned in order to be adopted into the community of a renowned guru. In early days, the donation took the form of gold dust, a piece of metal work, of gemstones or of food or fuel. Today, money is a more useful offering because it can be transferred easily for use in the guru's own projects for helping others, and for the maintenance of dharma centres.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Taking Refuge - Becoming a Buddhist Part 2

The Ritual
In the presence of a representative of the Buddha' s sangha or community; that is, an ordained Buddhist teacher, priest, monk or nun, the individual asks for admission to the Buddhist community. This is usually in front of a shrine with representations of the Three Jewels on it including a statue of Buddha and offerings of food, flowers and traditional bowls of water along with incense and an offering of light in the form of a flame. A representation of pleasant sounds, usually represented by a pair of cymbals, is also present on the shrine.

The teacher explains that there are 3 objects of Refuge: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. He or she will explain why and how they are suitable Refuges. Then come the requirements, which are: You understand what they are doing, you come of your own free will (the question will be asked of you and you respond truthfully) and you will have to promise to observe the precept not to take any life intentionally.There is also advice given on how to respect the 3 Jewels.

The person desiring Refuge kneels on one knee (the right one) as in ancient Indian illustrations, that is with the palms joined below the chin. This pose is called in Sanskrit, anjali.

You then make the request for Refuge three different times, each time beginning with an identification of who it is who is asking. That is, you give your full name. (The third time, your name will have changed.) It is made using a traditional formula that the teacher or Lama will model and explain, in the language of the tradition to which they belong and/or in the local language such as English, French, Chinese, etc.
There will probably be a few people there, kneeling in a row. If there are many, it can get a bit tiring as you wait your turn for the next part of the Refuge ceremony. Older, stiffer people might want to practice getting up and down from the one-knee-up kneeling position at home before the actual ceremony.

The monk or lama will then beckon each person to approach, and a tiny lock of hair is cut from the crown of the head. The crown [very top of the head] is the highest part, and symbolizes an offering of the best of oneself. The cutting ritual is also in the tradition of those who leave everything behind, symbolically experiencing their own death to become renunciates [sannyasin] or sadhus.

Then the "new' person says a formula of thanks that is also a confirmation that he or she is doing this of their free will. It translates as "I am glad."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Taking Refuge - Becoming a Buddhist Part 1

As is the case with other systems of belief, people may think of themselves as Buddhist having been born into a family of Buddhists, or into a culture where Buddhism is predominant, and may never actually go through any ritual.

It is not necessary to give up any religious affiliation to practice Buddhism unless that religion demands actions that contradict Buddhist principles. Also, it is not generally necessary to change one's habits of diet, dress or relations with others, though some people choose to do so. Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche says that giving up other spiritual practices is not necessary to become a Buddhist. He says, "Just because you make a new friend, you don't have to give up your old friend."

The procedure by which one makes the choice to become a committed Buddhist however, is known as Taking Refuge. We take shelter in the protection and guidance of The Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Many people say that they experience a real sense of relief on the occasion of taking Refuge, as if they have really come in out of a storm to a place of warmth and comfort.


To prepare for the ritual, people generally bathe to feel fresh and to symbolically wash away the past. It is a traditional thing to do in many different cultures, and it helps create a feeling of purification and rebirth. Some people, knowing about the hair-cutting tradition, might arrange their hair so that the symbolic gesture of the Buddha's representative will be easy. In keeping with the aspect of renunciation, avoid the wearing of perfumes and other scented products. Also, strong odours can be distracting, even annoying, to people around you. People sometimes put on new or festive clothing. There is no requirement except to dress modestly and comfortably.

Take into consideration that the ritual postures can expose more than is appropriate, and that celibate people may be present. (We might think nothing of wearing shorts, sleeveless / form-fitting tops, hip-hugging pants that reveal too much especially when the person is seated and so on, but other people, certainly those of the older generation, may feel uncomfortable.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Renunciation - Part Five

The question remains: how does this strategy of skillful renunciation and skillful indulgence translate into everyday practice? People who ordain as monastics take vows of celibacy and are expected to work constantly at renouncing sensual passion, but for many people this is not a viable option. The Buddha thus recommended that his lay followers observe day-long periods of temporary renunciation. Four days out of each month -- traditionally on the new-, full-, and half-moon days -- they can take the eight precepts, which add the following observances to the standard five: celibacy, no food after noon, no watching of shows, no listening to music, no use of perfumes and cosmetics, and no use of luxurious seats and beds.

Today is then devoted to listening to the Dhamma, to clarify Right View; and to practicing meditation, to The purpose of these added precepts is to place reasonable restraints on all five of the senses. The strengthen Right Concentration. Although the modern work-week can make the lunar scheduling of these day-long retreats impractical, there are ways they can be integrated into weekends or other days off from work. In this way, anyone interested can, at regular intervals, trade the cares and complexities of everyday life for the chance to master renunciation as a skill integral to the serious pursuit of happiness in the truest sense of the word. And isn't that an intelligent trade?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Renunciation - Part Four

How is this done? By bringing It out into the open. Both sides of sensual attachment -- as habitual patterns from the past and our willingness to give into them again in the present -- are based on misunderstanding and fear. As the Buddha pointed out, sensual passion depends on aberrant perceptions: we project notions of constancy, ease, beauty, and self onto things that are actually inconstant, stressful, unattractive, and not-self. These misperceptions apply both to our passions and to their objects.


We perceive the expression of our sensuality as something appealing, a deep expression of our self-identity offering lasting pleasure; we see the objects of our passion as enduring and alluring enough, as lying enough under our control, to provide us with a satisfaction that won't turn into its opposite. Actually, none of this is the case, and yet we blindly believe our projections because the power of our passionate attachments has us too intimidated to look them straight in the eye. Their special effects thus keep us dazzled and deceived. As long as we deal only in indulgence and repression, attachment can continue operating freely in the dark of the sub-conscious. But when we consciously resist it, it has to come to the surface, articulating its threats, demands, and rationalizations. So even though sensual pleasures aren't evil, we have to systematically forego them as a way of drawing the agendas of attachment out into the open. This is how skillful renunciation serves as a learning tool, unearthing latent agendas that both indulgence and repression tend to keep underground.

At the same time, we need to provide the mind with strategies to withstand those agendas and to cut through them once they appear. This is where Right Concentration comes in. As a skillful form of indulgence, Right Concentration suffuses the body with a non-sensual rapture and pleasure that can help counteract any sense of deprivation in resisting sensual passions. In other words, it provides higher pleasures -- more lasting and refined -- as a reward for abandoning attachment to lower ones. At the same time it gives us the stable basis we need so as not to be blown away by the assaults of our thwarted attachments. This stability also steadies the mindfulness and alertness we need to see through the misperceptions and delusions that underlie sensual passion. And once the mind can see through the processes of projection, perception, and misperception to the greater sense of freedom that comes when they are transcended, the basis for sensual passion is gone.

At this stage, we can then turn to analyze our attachment to the pleasures of Right Concentration. When our understanding is complete, we abandon all need for attachment of any sort, and thus meet with the pure gold of a freedom so total that it can't be described.

Renunciation - Part Three

Part of our resistance to this resolve is universally human. People everywhere relish their passions. Even the Buddha admitted to his disciples that, when he set out on the path of practice, his heart didn't leap at the idea of renouncing sensual passion, didn't see it as offering peace. But an added part of our resistance to renunciation is peculiar to Western culture. Modern pop psychology teaches that the only alternative to a healthy indulgence of our sensual passions is an unhealthy, fearful repression. Yet both of these alternatives are based on fear: repression, on a fear of what the passion might do when expressed or even allowed into consciousness; indulgence, on a fear of deprivation and of the under-the-bed monster the passion might become if resisted and driven underground. Both alternatives place serious limitations on the mind. The Buddha, aware of the drawbacks of both, had the imagination to find a third alternative: a fearless, skillful approach that avoids the dangers of either side.

Buddha Guatama

To understand his approach, though, we have to see how Right Resolve relates to other parts of the Buddhist path, in particular Right View and Right Concentration. In the formal analysis of the path, Right Resolve builds on Right View; in its most skillful manifestation, it functions as the directed thought and evaluation that bring the mind to Right Concentration. Right View provides a skillful understanding of sensual pleasures and passions, so that our approach to the problem doesn't go off-target; Right Concentration provides an inner stability and bliss so that we can clearly see the roots of passion and at the same time not fear deprivation at the prospect of pulling them out
There are two levels to Right View, focusing (1) on the results of our actions in the narrative of our lives and (2) on the issues of stress and its cessation within the mind. The first level points out the drawbacks of sensual passion: sensual pleasures are fleeting, unstable, and stressful; passion for them lies at the root of many of the ills of life, ranging from the hardships of gaining and maintaining wealth, to quarrels within families and wars between nations. This level of Right View prepares us to see the indulgence of sensual passion as a problem. The second level -- viewing things in terms of the four noble truths -- shows us how to solve this problem in our approach to the present moment. It points out that the root of the problem lies not in the pleasures but in the passion, for passion involves attachment, and any attachment for pleasures based on conditions leads inevitably to stress and suffering, in that all conditioned phenomena are subject to change. In fact, our attachment to sensual passion tends to be stronger and more constant than our attachments to particular pleasures. This attachment is what has to be renounced.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Renunciation - Part Two

Sacrificing external pleasures also frees us of the mental burdens that holding onto them often entails. A famous story in the Canon tells of a former king who, after becoming a monk, sat down at the foot of a tree and exclaimed, "What bliss! What bliss!" His fellow monks thought he was pining for the pleasures he had enjoyed as king, but he later explained to the Buddha exactly what bliss he had in mind:

"Before... I had guards posted within and without the royal apartments, within and without the city, within and without the countryside. But even though I was thus guarded, thus protected, I dwelled in fear -- agitated, distrustful, and afraid. But now, on going alone to a forest, to the foot of a tree, or to an empty dwelling, I dwell without fear, unagitated, confident, and unafraid -- unconcerned, unruffled, my wants satisfied, with my mind like a wild deer."

A third reason for sacrificing external pleasures is that in pursuing some pleasures -- such as our addictions to eye-candy, ear-candy, nose-, tongue-, and body-candy -- we foster qualities of greed, anger, and delusion that actively block the qualities needed for inner peace. Even if we had all the time and energy in the world, the pursuit of these pleasures would lead us further and further away from the goal. They are spelled out in the path factor called Right Resolve: the resolve to forego any pleasures involving sensual passion, ill will, and harmfulness. "Sensual passion" covers not only sexual desire, but also any hankering for the pleasures of the senses that disrupts the peace of the mind. "Ill will" covers any wish for suffering, either for oneself or for others. And "harmfulness" is any activity that would bring that suffering about. Of these three categories, the last two are the easiest to see as worth abandoning. They're not always easy to abandon, perhaps, but the resolve to abandon them is obviously a good thing. The first resolve, though -- to renounce sensual passion -- is difficult even to make, to say nothing of following it through.

Renunciation - Part One

Buddhism takes a familiar American principle -- the pursuit of happiness -- and inserts two important qualifiers. The happiness it aims at is true: ultimate, unchanging, and undeceitful. Its pursuit of that happiness is serious, not in a grim sense, but dedicated, disciplined, and willing to make intelligent sacrifices.

What sort of sacrifices are intelligent? The Buddhist answer to this question resonates with another American principle: an intelligent sacrifice is any in which you gain a greater happiness by letting go of a lesser one, in the same way you'd give up a bag of candy if offered a pound of gold in exchange. In other words, an intelligent sacrifice is like a profitable trade. This analogy is an ancient one in the Buddhist tradition. "I'll make a trade," one of the Buddha's disciples once said, "aging for the Ageless, burning for the Unbound: the highest peace, the unexcelled safety from bondage."

There's something in all of us that would rather not give things up. We'd prefer to keep the candy and get the gold. But maturity teaches us that we can't have everything, that to indulge in one pleasure often involves denying ourselves another, perhaps better, one. Thus we need to establish clear priorities for investing our limited time and energies where they'll give the most lasting returns.

That means giving top priority to the mind. Material things and social relationships are unstable and easily affected by forces beyond our control, so the happiness they offer is fleeting and undependable. But the well-being of a well-trained mind can survive even aging, illness, and death. To train the mind, though, requires time and energy. This is one reason why the pursuit of true happiness demands that we sacrifice some of our external pleasures.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bodisattvas of Compassion

The Taras
It was not until the adoption of the Yogachara system, taught by Asanga in the fourth century AD, that the feminine principle began to be venerated in Mahayana Buddhism. Around the sixth century, the goddess Tara was considered as a Sakti of Avalokitesvara (sometimes as his wife). The Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang (seventh century) claimed to have seen many statues of this deity in northern India. However, she was not accepted by followers of the Theravada, and her image is rarely to be found in Sri Lanka or in South-East Asia (except perhaps in Java, where a temple was dedicated to her in 779).

Green Tara

Many legends have sprung up around this goddess. According to one of them she was born in a beam of blue light emanating from one of the eyes of Avalokitesvara; another has her born from a lotus, floating in a tear on his face. It was believed in Tibet in the seventh century that Tara was reincarnated in every virtuous and pious woman: thus two of the wives of King Srong-btsan Sgam-po, Wencheng, who was Chinese, and a Nepalese daughter of Amsuvarman, came to be considered as incarnations of Tara. To differentiate between the two wives, the Tibetans created two distinctive Taras, white for the Chinese, with a full-blown lotus as her emblem, and green for the Nepalese, whose emblem is the blue (half-open) lotus. Each is believed to have been born from an eye of Avalokitesvara (open and half-closed). Hence they came to be considered as symbols of the day (full-blown lotus, eye open) and the night (half-open lotus, eye half-closed). But this couple soon multiplied, and 21 Taras are mentioned.

In China, this goddess was practically unknown, and was not at all common. In Japan, she was given the rank of Bodhisattva (Tarani Bosatsu), and she combines both aspects (white and green) of the Tibetan Tara. She is practically only found on mandalas or temple banners. She holds a pomegranate (symbol of prosperity) and a lotus. She is pale green.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bodisattvas of Compassion

Jataka Tales

The term Bodhisattva refers to someone on the path to Awakening. The Mahayana has conceived them as having renounced the ultimate state out of pure compassion towards all beings, and can therefore refers to anyone en route. In non-Mahayana Buddhism, it usually refers either to Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future, or to the historical Buddha Gautama prior to his enlightenment - either during the life in which he became enlightened or in one of the innumerable lives before that in which he was developing the requisite virtues for enlightenment, such as generosity. The stories of these lives are called the Jatakas, or 'birth stories', and they are a very frequent subject of Buddhist art.

Among the Bodhisattvas, it is Avalokitesvara who has the largest number of forms and is perhaps the most venerated and most popular Buddhist deity. His sex, originally masculine, is sometimes considered feminine in China and Japan, although this discrimination is unsupported by any canonical text. And was often considered in China and Japan as the 'mother of the human race' and, in this respect, worshipped in the form of a woman.
Avalokitesvara is known from very early in the development of the Mahayana doctrines and, until Buddhism disappeared from India, enjoyed great favour there. His cult passed from India to South-East Asia and Java, where it met with great success, and also in Nepal, Tibet (where he arrived with Buddhism and where King Srong-btsan Sgam-po, 519-650, was considered to be his incarnation), and in China, from where he went on to Korea and Japan. All these countries imagined him in different forms according to their own temperaments and spirituality.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Shunyata - Emptiness in Buddhist Philosophy Part 5

The existence of a thing in dependence of its causes (except in the special case where we were involved in making it ) appears totally objective and does not require our participation. The causes of a car are the geological processes which produced coal, iron and copper ores. Then the miners, metalworkers, designers, component manufacturers and assembly line workers who transformed the raw material into the finished product. Unless we happen to work in one of these industries, the causal mode of existence does not depend on our participation.

Existence in dependence on parts is more subjective. We may view a car as composed of a chassis, an engine and four wheels. Or we may take a more detailed view with the engine being seen as pistons, cylinder-head, carburettor etc. These too can be analysed into subcomponents, all the way down through atoms of iron and carbon, to the fundamental particles such as protons, electrons and the photons which shine from the headlamps.
Our perception of dependence upon parts is very much determined by how we choose to subdivide the whole. The mind has to participate by applying analytical effort to generate the view of existence in dependence upon parts.

It's when we get to the final stage of perception of dependence in terms of the fundamental building blocks of matter that we come up against the very subtle (most participatory) level of dependent relationship of imputation by mind. Experiments in quantum physics seem to demonstrate the need for an observer to make potentialities become real.

Quantum shunyata
Now, fundamental particles such as electrons and photons do not have any obvious causes. Either they always have been there or else they come into existence as the result of random quantum events. Neither do they have anything in the way of observable parts (otherwise they wouldn't be fundamental). So when we examine an electron or photon, we are looking at a phenomenon in which the two grosser ways of existing are relatively inapparent. As the two grosser levels are not clamouring for our attention, Kadampa metaphysics would predict that the very subtle level of dependent relationship (in dependence of imputation by mind) should manifest itself.

It is important to emphasise that the mathematical equations of quantum physics do not describe actual existence - they describe potential for existence. Working out the equations of quantum mechanics for a system composed of fundamental particles produces a range of potential locations, values and attributes of the particles which evolve and change with time. But for any system only one of these potential states can become real, and - this is the revolutionary finding of quantum physics - what forces the range of the potentials to assume one value is the act of observation. Matter and energy are not in themselves phenomena, and do not become phenomena until they interact with the mind.

[KELSANG GYATSO 1992] The First Panchen Lama, cited by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in Clear Light of Bliss, 2nd Edition page 146 (London :Tharpa Publications, 1992, ISBN 0 948006 21 8).
[CONZE 1959] Conze, Edward (tr) Buddhist Scriptures p 146 ff; (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books Ltd , 1959)
[BROOKES 1999] Brookes, Martin, Live and Let Live , New Scientist p 32 -36, 3rd July 1999.
[LOY 1996] Loy, David in the afterword to Swedenborg, Buddha of the North , page 104, (Swedenborg Foundation, West Chester Pennsylvania, 1996, ISBN 0-87785-184-0)
[KELSANG GYATSO 1995] Gyatso, Geshe Kelsang, Joyful Path of Good Fortune, 2nd Edition - page 349, (London: Tharpa Publications, 1995, ISBN 0 948006 46 3)

Shunyata - Emptiness in Buddhist Philosophy Part 4

The conclusion that all things are empty of inherent existence and appear only in dependence on our minds is not an obvious truth. So deeply ingrained is the idea of inherent existence and authority in Western culture that even when we have analysed all things as dependent on causes, and dependent on parts, we still hold back from the most subtle truth of dependence on mind. We think there ought to be 'something out there', or someone 'authoritative' who prevents the real world from being so much dependent upon our judgment. On first meeting teachings on emptiness the western mind often suspects it is the victim logical trickery or mere playing with words. Fortunately it is possible to demonstrate the true and all-pervasive nature of emptiness by examining the mode of existence of fundamental particles, the building blocks of all things in the material universe.

The participation of the observer
According to the Kadampa school of Buddhist philosophy all phenomena exist by dependence on other phenomena, which are themselves dependently related to other phenomena and so on. No matter how deeply or far back we search, no phenomenon can ever be found which is fundamental or a 'thing-in-itself'. Neither the observer nor any observed phenomenon exist independently, but are inextricably intertwined. This viewpoint is known as dependent relationship.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso [KELSANG GYATSO 1995] states that there are three levels of dependent relationship:

(1) Gross dependent relationship - causality - the dependence of phenomena on their causes.
(2) Subtle dependent relationship - structure - the dependence of phenomena on their perceived parts (including aspects, divisions and directions).
(3) Very subtle dependent relationship - the dependence of phenomena on imputation by mind.

All functioning things exist in these three ways. The very subtle dependent relationship - existence by the mind's imputation - is the most difficult one to understand, especially since for most ordinary phenomena this view of existence is masked by the two grosser levels of existence. This subtle mode of existence is always present, but only becomes apparent in those circumstances where the grosser levels do not dominate.

If we have problems with the terminology of gross and subtle, we may think of this as the degree of apparent objectivity of dependent relationship . The most gross is the most objective and the very subtle is the most subjective (or participatory) type of dependent relationship.

Shunyata - Emptiness in Buddhist Philosophy Part 3

Emptiness of natural things.
Maybe we can rescue Plato's ideas of the inherent existence of perfect forms if we assume there is a strict demarcation between man-made and natural objects, with the former existing in dependence upon the 'judgement' of the observer, but the latter existing 'from their own side'. For having come to accept that man-made things such as chariots and cars owe some of their existence to dependence on our mind, we may suspect that this is somehow because they are originally products of the human mind - as first conceived by the designer.

We find it more difficult to accept the natural things in the world, such as flowers and trees are dependent upon our minds. A rose would smell as sweet by any other name. A rose bush is a rose bush is a rose bush, and is different in its inherent nature from a plum or a cherry tree. There is no continuum between these three species and thus no necessity for our mind to make a judgment of the borderline. But is this really the case?

Leaving aside nightmare genetic engineering scenarios of octophants, elepuses and all stages in between, we may consider that there is (or was) a continuum of form between all living things. If we were to examine the fossil records of the ancestors of cherry trees and plum trees we would find that they diverged from one common ancestor. Looking back through the fossils we would seen a continuous gradation of characteristics from the ancestors of the cherry to to the ancestors of the plum, leading back to a time when they were indistinguishable. But the decision as to where ancestor ended and plum or cherry began would be totally arbitrary. And if we were to trace the common ancestor of the cherry and plum we would find convergence with the ancestors of the rose, strawberry, raspberry etc. What Darwin did for creationism he also did for biological Platonism - the biological species concept does not encapsulate any underlying truth [BROOKES 1999], and each individual species is unfindable

The ultimate unfindability of the real nature of all phenomena - their lack inherent existence, is usually referred to by English-speaking Buddhists as 'emptiness', which is a translation of the Sanskrit word shunyata (sometimes spelled Sunyata). According to David Loy the English word emptiness has a more nihilistic connotation than the original Sanskrit. The Sanskrit root su also conveys the concept of being swollen with possibility [LOY 1996]. It is therefore most important not to confuse emptiness with total nothingness. Emptiness implies the potential for existence and change. The mathematical analogy of emptiness is not zero, but the empty set.