Wednesday, August 31, 2011

No Water, No Moon

Note - This is one of my favorite koans.

When the nun Chiyono studied Zen under Bukko of Engaku she was unable to attain the fruits of meditation for a long time.

At last one moonlit night she was carrying water in an old pail bound with bamboo. The bamboo broke and the bottom fell out of the pail, and at that moment Chiyono was set free!

In commemoration, she wrote a poem:

In this way and that I tried to save the old pail
Since the bamboo strip was weakening and about
to break
Until at last the bottom fell out.
No more water in the pail!
No more moon in the water!

Open Your Own Treasure House

Daiju visited the master Baso in China. Baso asked: "What do you seek?"

"Enlightenment," replied Daiju.

"You have your own treasure house. Why do you search outside?" Baso asked.

Daiju inquired: "Where is my treasure house?"

Baso answered: "What you are asking is your treasure house."

Daiju was enlightened! Ever after he urged his friends: "Open your own tresure house and use those treasures."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Voice of Happiness

After Bankei had passed away, a blind man who lived near the master's temple told a friend:

"Since I am blind, I cannot watch a person's face, so I must judge his character by the sound of his voice. Ordinarily when I hear someone congratulate another upon his happiness or success, I also hear a secret tone of envy. When condolence is expressed for the misfortune of another, I hear pleasure and satisfaction, as if the one condoling was really glad there was something left to gain in his own world.

"In all my experience, however, Bankei's voice was always sincere. Whenever he expressed happiness, I heard nothing but happiness, and whenever he expressed sorrow, sorrow was all I heard."

Trading Dialogue For Lodging - A Koan

Provided he makes and wins an argument about Buddhism with those who live there, any wondering monk can remain in a Zen temple. If he is defeated, he has to move on.

In a temple in the northern part of Japan two brother monks were dwelling together. The elder one was learned, but the younger one was stupid and had but one eye.

A wandering monk came and asked for lodging, properly challenging them to a debate about the sublime teachings. The elder brother, tired that day from much studying, told the younger one to take his place. "Go and request the dialogue in silence," he cautioned.

So the young monk and the stranger went to the shrine and sat down.

Shortly afterwards the traveler rose and went in to the elder brother and said: "Your young brother is a wonderful fellow. He defeated me."

"Relate the dialogue to me," said the elder one.

"Well," explained the traveler, "first I held up one finger, representing Buddha, the enlightened one. So he held up two fingers, signifying Buddha and his teaching. I held up three fingers, representing Buddha, his teaching, and his followers, living the harmonious life. Then he shook his clenched fist in my face, indicating that all three come from one realization. Thus he won and so I have no right to remain here." With this, the traveler left.

"Where is that fellow?" asked the younger one, running in to his elder brother.

"I understand you won the debate."

"Won nothing. I'm going to beat him up."

"Tell me the subject of the debate," asked the elder one.

"Why, the minute he saw me he held up one finger, insulting me by insinuating that I have only one eye. Since he was a stranger I thought I would be polite to him, so I held up two fingers, congratulating him that he has two eyes. Then the impolite wretch held up three fingers, suggesting that between us we only have three eyes. So I got mad and started to punch him, but he ran out and that ended it!"

Monday, August 29, 2011

Eshun's Departure

When Eshun, the Zen nun, was past sixty and about to leave this world, she asked some monks to pile up wood in the yard.

Seating herself firmly in the center of the funeral pyre, she had it set fire around the edges.

"O nun!" shouted one monk, "is it hot in there?"

"Such a matter would concern only a stupid person like yourself," answered Eshun.

The flames arose, and she passed away.



Sunday, August 28, 2011

Three Days More - A Zen Koan

Suiwo, the disciple of Hakuin, was a good teacher. During one summer seclusion period, a pupil came to him from a southern island of Japan.

Suiwo gave him the problem: "Hear the sound of one hand."The pupil remained three years but could not pass this test. One night he came in tears to Suiwo. "I must return south in shame and embarrassment," he said, "for I cannot solve my problem."

"Wait one week more and meditate constantly," advised Suiwo. Still no enlightenment came to the pupil. "Try for another week," said Suiwo. The pupil obeyed, but in vain.

"Still another week." Yet this was of no avail. In despair the student begged to be released, but Suiwo requested another meditation of five days. They were without result. Then he said: "Meditate for three days longer, then if you fail to attain enlightenment, you had better kill yourself."

On the second day the pupil was enlightened.

The beautiful images was borrowed from

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Looking at Emptiness Again

I've been reading, thinking and writing about Emptiness or Ultimate Truth for awhile now and when I read it over again, I wonder what does this have to do with anything? How does it even remotely affect my day to day life? It sounds so 'out there'. So I decided to back up a bit and re-examine why I'm doing this and if it really is important and relevant to a person like me. I live in a large US city, I like rock music and computers, I'm 59 years old and single, I read science fiction and I like to watch television. How can something some man thought up 2,500 years ago apply to me?

My first conclusion is, yes it is important and relevant. Why? Because I want to find a real and lasting peace. I want to understand where that peace comes from for real and how to avoid clinging to things that will not ever bring real happiness or contentment. And, over the past couple of years I have realized that in order to keep any happiness I may have, I must be willing to share it with other people. Helping other people is a key element in personal happiness. In order to share it, I've got to understand it.

Here is what Kadampa Buddhist leader Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says about why understanding Emptiness is important:

"Ultimate truth, emptiness, and ultimate nature of phenomena are the same. We should know that all our problems arise because we do not realize ultimate truth.The reason we remain in Samsara's prison is that due to our delusions we continue to engage in contaminated actions. All our delusions stem from self-grasping ignorance. Self-grasping ignorance is the source of all our negativity and problems, and the only way to eradicate it is through realizing emptiness. Emptiness is not easy to understand, but it is extremely important that we make the effort. Ultimately our efforts will be rewarded by the permanent cessation of all suffering and the everlasting bliss of full enlightenment." Transform Your Life, A Blissful Journey, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.

What is emptiness then? My understanding, so far, is that emptiness is how things really are as opposed to how they appear to be. An object, let's say a car, does not have any meaning in and of itself. The only meaning, or inherent existence, a car has is what we give to it, how we think about it. To us, a car can be a means of getting from one place to another, a welcome relief from having to walk or ride the bus. Or, if the car won't start, it is a source of inconvenience and worry - how can I get to work on time or where will I find the money to fix it? Or, what if we grew up in an unhappy home and the one way out of that situation was when our parents let us use the car. Then, the car becomes a means to find a little fun and relaxation. The car is just sitting there in the driveway. All of the importance it has is what we have decided to give it. From its own side, a car has no inherent existence or meaning. Its our choice, our thoughts, our feelings.

Now, this barely, if at all, scratches the surface of the ultimate truth of emptiness. I am trying to gain a deeper understanding, the next level of thinking maybe. So I'm going to continue with the car example and try to move a little further into finding the true nature of a car.

So what exactly is a car? Does it exist as one complete entity or is it made up of different parts? If so, at what point on the assembly line does it cease being a bunch of parts and become a car? Is a car still a car if some of its parts are gone - say If you go out one morning to go to work only to find it sitting up on blocks because someone has stolen the tires? Is it a car only when it performs its intended purpose? Is it still a car if you go out one morning to go to work and it won't start? If it does not perform its intended purpose is it still considered to be a car? And, why do we care about this line of thinking anyway? My first thought is because we need to know the truth about things and we need to live in reality, even at this basic of a level. If I can't define something as mundane as a car, if I don't know the true nature of a car, how can I begin to understand anything that really matters?

And, what does all this have to do with "self-grasping ignorance"?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My Heart Burns Like Fire - A Zen Koan

Soyen Shaku, the first Zen teacher to come to America, said: "My heart burns like fire but my eyes are as cold as dead ashes." He made the following rules which he practiced every day of his life.

In the morning before dressing, light incense and meditate.

Retire at a regular hour. Partake of food at regular intervals. Eat with moderation and never to the point of satisfaction.

Receive a guest with the same attitude you have when alone. When alone, maintain the same attitude you have in receiving guests.

Watch what you say, and whatever you say, practice it.

When an opportunity comes do not let it pass by, yet always think twice before acting.

Do not regret the past. Look to the future.

Have the fearless attitude of a hero and the loving heart of a child.

Upon retiring, sleep as if you had entered your last sleep. Upon awakening, leave your bed behind you instantly as if you had cast away a pair of old shoes.

More On Emptiness - Put On Your Thinking Cap!

The Buddhist World

According to the Buddhist emptiness teachings, the world is made up only of things that are "selfless" or empty. Even non-existents are empty. Non-existents would include round squares, the hairs of a turtle, etc., and inherent existence. Existents are divided into two classes, compounded things and non-compounded things.

Compounded things are said to disintegrate moment-to-moment, in a way analogous to aging. They are impermanent in this sense. Compounded things have pieces or parts and are produced from combinations of other factors. Compounded things include physical objects, colors, shapes, powers, sensations, thoughts, intentions, feelings, persons, collections, and states of being. These various things fall under the categories of Form (colors, shapes and powers), Consciousness (the sensory modalities and thinking processes), and Compositional Factors (collections and states of being).

Non-compounded things include do not disintegrate moment-to-moment. In this sense, they are said to be "permanent." There are two kinds of "permanent" existent. There are "occasional permanents," which come into existence and go out of existence. These include, for example, the space inside the cup and the emptiness of the cup. Even though the cup is compounded and consists of parts (such as the rim, the handle, the walls, etc.), the space inside the cup and the emptiness of the cup are not compounded and do not consist of parts. Also, the emptiness of the cup and the space inside the cup stop existing when the cup stops existing. There are also "Non-occasional permanents," such as emptiness in general and space in general. These are the referents of general concepts, and exist as long as any objects or relations exist.

For the student of emptiness, it is not important to remember or utilize this scheme or employ these categories in one's day-to-day use. What is important is to learn the lessons taught by this scheme:

According to the Buddhist world-view, everything that exists is said to be empty. For each thing, there is also the corresponding emptiness of that thing, because to exist is to be empty. Inherent existence falls under the category of non-existent things.

This last point is especially important when it comes to meditating on emptiness. When you meditate on emptiness, what you actually look for is inherent existence. Instead of finding inherent existence, you will find the lack of inherent existence. This lack itself is emptiness.

Emptiness and Dependent Arising

According to the Mahayana paths of Buddhism that emphasize the notion, emptiness is what the early Buddhist sutras were pointing to when they presented the notion of pratītyasamutpāda (Sanskrit) or paticcasamuppāda (Pali), namely "dependent arising":

There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones notices:
When this is, that is.
From the arising of this comes the arising of that.
When this isn't, that isn't.
From the cessation of this comes the cessation of that.
(Anguttara Nikaya X.92; Vera Sutta)

Centuries later, Nagarjuna (2nd century C. E.) became the preeminent expositor of emptiness teachings. His Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (Treatise on the Middle Way) is today considered the most profound and sophisticated exposition of emptiness in Buddhism. The text provides scores of arguments for the conclusion that to propose any kind of inherent existence or metaphysical essence involves the proponent in logical contradictions and incoherence. Chapter 24 actually contains two specific verses that characterize the notion of emptiness itself:

Whatever is dependently co-arisen,
That is explained to be emptiness.
That, being a dependent designation,
Is itself the middle way. (Treatise, 24.18)

Something that is not dependently arisen,
Such a thing does not exist.
Therefore a nonempty thing
Does not exist. (Treatise, 24.19)

In verse 18, Nagarjuna sets up a three-way equivalence:

emptiness : dependent arising : verbal convention

and identifies this equivalence with the Middle Way. The Middle Way is a form of nonduality that is free from the dualistic opposites of essentialism and nihilism. Even emptiness itself is characterized as being empty. It is empty because, instead of having the inherent nature of being dependent arising, it is merely "explained to be" dependent arising.

In verse 19, Nagarjuna states that whatever exists, is in some sense dependently arisen, that is, empty. If something is not dependently arisen, then it is not empty. If it is not empty, then it does not exist. And of course even things we would normally consider as non-existent, such as unicorns and round squares, are also empty.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

More On Emptiness

Why Emptiness?

Emptiness is another kind of nondual teaching. Emptiness teachings demonstrate that the "I," as well as everthing else, lacks inherent existence. The notion of lacking inherent existence has several senses. In one sense, empty things lack essence, which means that there is no intrinsic quality that makes a thing what it is. In another sense, empty things lack independence, which means that a thing does not exist on its own, apart from conditions, relations or cognition. A great deal of what one studies in the emptiness teachings demonstrates the relations between these two senses, and heightens one's sensitivity to their ramifications.

According to Buddhism, when emptiness is realized, peace ensues. One's experience is transformed so that the self, other beings and the world no longer seem like intrinsically compartmentalized objects, distinct and separate from each other. The self and all things are experienced as free.

If the selflessness of phenomena is analyzed
and if this analysis is cultivated,
It causes the effect of attaining nirvana.
Through no other cause does one come to peace.
(The Samadhiraja Sutra)

One who is in harmony with emptiness
is in harmony with all things.
(Nagarjuna, Treatise on the Middle Way 24.14)

How Is Emptiness Nondual?

The most common connotation of "nonduality" is "oneness" or "singularity." Many teachings state that everything is actually awareness; those teachings are nondual in the "oneness" sense in which there are no two things.

But there is another sense of "nonduality." Instead of nonduality as "oneness," it's nonduality as "free from dualistic extremes." This entails freedom from the pairs of metaphysical dualisms such as essentialism/nihilism, existence/non-existence, reification/annihilation, presence/absence, or intrinsicality/voidness, etc. These pairs are dualisms in this sense: if you experience things in the world in terms of one side of the pair, you will experience things in the world in terms of the other side as well. If some things seem like they truly exist, then other things will seem like they truly don't exist. You will experience your own self to truly exist, and fear that one day you will truly not exist. Emptiness teachings show how none of these pairs make sense, and free you from experiencing yourself and the world in terms of these opposites. Emptiness teachings are nondual in this sense.

Emptiness in Buddhism

According to Buddhist teachings, freedom from suffering dawns when we realize that we ourselves, as well as all things, are empty.

In Buddhism, suffering is said to come from conceiving that we and the world have fixed, independent and unchangeable natures that exist on their own without help from anything else. We expect that there is a true way that self and world truly are and ought to be. These expectations are unrealistic and prevent us from granting things the freedom to come and go and change. We like pleasant things to abide permanently, and unpleasant things to never occur. We experience suffering when we actually encounter comings, goings and change. Suffering often takes the form of anger, indignation, existential anxiety, and even a sense that, as they say in TV sitcoms, "something is wrong with this picture."

But when we deeply realize that we and the world are empty, we no longer have unrealistic expectations. We find peace and freedom in the midst of flux.

What Does Emptiness Mean?

What are things empty of? According to the Buddhist teachings, things are empty of inherent existence.

Being empty of inherent existence means that there is no essential, fixed or independent way in which things exist. Things have no essential nature. There is no way things truly are, in and of themselves. Different Buddhist schools or tenet systems have different ways of characterizing emptiness; they have different ways of helping students reduce suffering. My characterization of emptiness adheres somewhat to the Tibetan Gelug-ba school of Prasangika. This is not the only tenet system in Buddhism that discusses emptiness. There are other schools with slightly different interpretations of the emptiness teachings.

I prefer the Tibetan Prasangika interpretation for pragmatic reasons. It has a greater number of publically available supports for studying and meditating on emptiness than I have seen in other Buddhist schools. The term "Prasangika" is Sanskrit for "consequence." The "consequence" designation comes from this school's method of debate and refutation, which follows Nagarjuna's style in his Treatise.

The Sound of One Hand - A Zen Koan

The master of Kennin temple was Mokurai, Silent Thunder. He had a little protege named Toyo who was only twelve years old. Toyo saw the older disciples visit the master's room each morning and evening to receive instruction in sanzen or personal guidance in which they were given koans to stop mind-wandering.

Toyo wished to do sanzen also.

"Wait a while," said Mokurai. "You are too young."

But the child insisted, so the teacher finally consented.

In the evening little Toyo went at the proper time to the threshold of Mokurai's sanzen room. He struck the gong to announce his presence, bowed respectfully three times outside the door, and went to sit before the master in respectful silence.

"You can hear the sound of two hands when they clap together," said Mokurai. "Now show me the sound of one hand."

Toyo bowed and went to his room to consider this problem. From his window he could hear the music of the geishas. "Ah, I have it!" he proclaimed.

The next evening, when his teacher asked him to illustrate the sound of one hand, Toyo began to play the music of the geishas.

"No, no," said Mokurai. "That will never do. That is not the sound of one hand. You've not got it at all."

Thinking that such music might interrupt, Toyo moved his abode to a quiet place. He meditated again. "What can the sound of one hand be?" He happened to hear some water dripping. "I have it," imagined Toyo.

When he next appeared before his teacher, Toyo imitated dripping water.

"What is that?" asked Mokurai. "That is the sound of dripping water, but not the sound of one hand. Try again."

In vain Toyo meditated to hear the sound of one hand. He heard the sighing of the wind. But the sound was rejected.

He heard the cry of an owl. This also was refused.

The sound of one hand was not the locusts.

For more than ten times Toyo visited Mokurai with different sounds. All were wrong. For almost a year he pondered what the sound of one hand might be.

At last little Toyo entered true meditation and transcended all sounds. "I could collect no more," he explained later, "so I reached the soundless sound."

Toyo had realized the sound of one hand.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Mother's Advice - A Zen Koan

Jiun, a Shingon master, was a well-known Sanskrit scholar of the Tokugawa era. When he was young he used to deliver lectures to his brother students.

His mother heard about this and wrote him a letter:

"Son, I do not think you became a devotee of the Buddha because you desired to turn into a walking dictionary for others. There is no end to information and commentation, glory and honor. I wish you would stop this lecture business. Shut yourself up in a little temple in a remote part of the mountain. Devote your time to meditation and in this way attain true realization."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Honesty in All Speech and All Action

I struggle with being completely honest and it makes me unhappy. I don't know why I hold on to it like I do - and I had never really thought of it as something I'm clinging to and grasping at until this morning. I do believe there is fear involved in letting dishonesty go in order to begin speaking and living in the truth. Dishonesty erodes self-esteem and character and that leads to suffering. When integrity is compromised, character and self-esteem are the first casualties on a personal level.

I read today that integrity is unimpaired wholeness or incorruptibility. What can corrupt my character? The answer is always dishonesty. So the solution becomes obvious: Develop Honest Speech and Honest Action - And Live That Way.

To digress into analysis for a moment, stopping dishonesty can cause fear at first. Even though living with dishonesty and compromised integrity causes pain and damages self-esteem, it is the same behavior that has made me feel safe over the years. (But it's a false sense of security, of course) I have believed dishonesty is necessary for survival, approval & acceptance and may be the only means to have intimacy and friendship - as if me standing alone and unembellished would not measure up.

So, agreeing when I want to object or smiling when I want to cry or saying one thing then doing another, are dishonest behaviors. Regardless of the benefits they seem to have provided, I need to see them now as the liabilities they have become.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Right Speech - The Noble Eightfold Path

The moral discipline of Right Speech, from The Noble Eightfold Path, is the subject of this essay.

In Pali, Right Speech is "samma vaca." The word "samma" has a sense of being perfected or completed, and "vaca" refers to words or speech. "Right speech" is more than just "correct" speech. It is the wholehearted expression of our Buddhist practice, and with Action and Livelihood it is interconnected to the other parts of the Eightfold Path -- Right Mindfulness, Right Intention, Right View, Right Concentration, Right Effort.

Right Speech is not just a personal virtue. Modern communication technology has given us a culture that seems saturated with "wrong" speech -- communication that is hateful and deceptive. This engenders disharmony, acrimony, and physical violence.

We tend to think of violent, hateful words as being less wrong than violent action. We may even think of violent words as being justified sometimes. But violent words, thoughts and actions arise together and support each other. So to do peaceful words, thoughts and actions.

Beyond cultivating beneficial or harmful karma, Right Speech is essential to personal practice. Right Speech means using communication as a way to further our understanding of ourselves and others and as a way to develop insight.

The Basics of Right Speech

As recorded in the Pali Canon, the historical Buddha taught that Right Speech had four parts:

1.) Abstain from false speech; do not tell lies or deceive.
2.) Do not slander others or speak in a way that causes disharmony or enmity.
3.) Abstain from rude, impolite or abusive language.
4.) Do not indulge in idle talk or gossip.

Practice of these four aspects of Right Speech goes beyond simple "thou shalt nots." It means speaking truthfully and honestly; speaking in a way to promote harmony and good will; using language to reduce anger and ease tensions; using language in a way that is useful.

If your speech is not useful and beneficial, teachers say, it is better to keep silent.

Right Listening

In his book The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh said, "Deep listening is the foundation of Right Speech. If we cannot listen mindfully, we cannot practice Right Speech. No matter what we say, it will not be mindful, because we'll be speaking only our own ideas and not in response to the other person."

This reminds us that our speech is not just our speech. Communication is something that happens between people. We might think of speech as something we give to others, and if we think of it that way, what is the quality of that gift?

Mindfulness includes mindfulness of what's going on inside ourselves. If we aren't paying attention to our own emotions and taking care of ourselves, tension and suffering build up. And then we explode.

Words as Nourishment or Poison

Once I took a cab ride with a driver who was listening to a talk radio show. The program was a litany of the host's resentments and anger toward other individuals and groups.

The cab driver apparently listened to this poison all day long, and he was quivering with rage. He responded to the litany with foul expletives, occasionally slapping his hand on the dashboard for emphasis. The cab seemed filled up with hate; I could barely breathe. It was a great relief when the cab ride was over.

This incident showed me that Right Speech is not just about the words I speak, but also the words I hear. Certainly we cannot banish ugly words from our lives, but we can choose to not soak in them.

On the other hand, I can think of many times in my life when someone's words were a gift that healed and comforted.

The Four Immeasurables

Thinking of Right Speech reminds me of the Four Immeasurables. These are:

Lovingkindness (metta)
Compassion (karuna)
Sympathetic Joy (mudita)
Equanimity (upekkha)

Surely these are all qualities that can be nurtured through Right Speech. Can we train ourselves to use communication that furthers these qualities in ourselves and others?

Kind speech is not the usual sense of kindness - it can appear in various ways, but we should remember that it must constantly be based on compassion. Under all circumstances our speech should always be giving somebody support or help or a chance to grow.

Right Speech in the 21st Century

Practice of Right Speech has never been easy, but thanks to 21st century technology speech takes forms unimaginable in the Buddha's time. Through the Internet and mass media the speech of one person can be flung around the world.

As we look at this global net of communication, there are plenty of examples of speech used to inflame passion and violence and to separate people into sectarian and ideological tribes. It's not so easy to find speech that leads to peace and group harmony.

Sometimes people justify harsh speech because they are speaking on behalf of a worthy cause. But, ultimately, stirring up acrimony is planting karmic seeds that will hurt the cause we think we're fighting for.

When you live in a world of acrimonious speech, practice of Right Speech requires Right Effort and sometimes even courage. But it is an essential part of the Buddhist path.

The First Principle - A Koan

When one goes to Obaku temple in Kyoto he sees carved over the gate the words "The First Principle". The letters are unusually large, and those who appreciate calligraphy always admire them as being a mastepiece. They were drawn by Kosen two hundred years ago.

When the master drew them he did so on paper, from which the workmen made the large carving in wood. As Kosen sketched the letters a bold pupil was with him who had made several gallons of ink for the calligraphy and who never failed to criticise his master's work.

"That is not good," he told Kosen after his first effort.

"How is this one?"

"Poor. Worse than before," pronounced the pupil.

Kosen patiently wrote one sheet after another until eighty-four First Principles had accumulated, still without the approval of the pupil.

Then when the young man stepped outside for a few moments, Kosen thought: "Now this is my chance to escape his keen eye," and he wrote hurriedly, with a mind free from distraction: "The First Principle."

"A masterpiece," pronounced the pupil.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Parable

Buddha told a parable in sutra:

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Stingy in Teaching - A Zen Koan

A young physician in Tokyo named Kusuda met a college friend who had been studying Zen. The young doctor asked him what Zen was.

"I cannot tell you what it is," the friend replied, "but one thing is certain. If you understand Zen, you will not be afraid to die."

"That's fine," said Kusuda. "I will try it. Where can I find a teacher?"

"Go to the master Nan-in," the friend told him.

So Kusuda went to call on Nan-in. He carried a dagger nine and a half inches long to determine whether or not the teacher was afraid to die.

When Nan-in saw Kusuda he exclaimed: "Hello, friend. How are you? We haven't seen each other for a long time!"

This perplexed Kusuda, who replied: "We have never met before."

"That's right," answered Nan-in. "I mistook you for another physician who is receiving instruction here."

With such a begining, Kusuda lost his chance to test the master, so reluctantly he asked if he might receive instruction.

Nan-in said: "Zen is not a difficult task. If you are a physician, treat your patients with kindness. That is Zen."

Kusuda visited Nan-in three times. Each time Nan-in told him the same thing. "A phsisician should not waste time around here. Go home and take care of your patients."

It was not clear to Kusuda how such teaching could remove the fear of death. So on the forth visit he complained: "My friend told me that when one learns Zen one loses his fear of death. Each time I come here you tell me to take care of my patients. I know that much. If that is your so-called Zen, I am not going to visit you anymore."

Nan-in smiled and patted the doctor. "I have been too strict with you. Let me give you a koan." He presented Kusuda with Joshu's Mu to work over, which is the first mind-enlightening problem in the book called The Gateless Gate.

Kusuda pondered this problem of Mu (No-Thing) for two years. At length he thought he had reached certainty of mind. But his teacher commented: "You are not in yet."

Kusuda continued in concentration for another yet and a half. His mind became placid. Problems dissolved. No-Thing became the truth. He served his patients well and, without even knowing it, he was free from concern of life and death.

Then he visited Nan-in, his old teacher just smiled.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Central Doctines of Tibetan Buddhism

The first truth means that any form of conditioned existence is ultimately of the nature of suffering and dissatisfaction. The second truth means that suffering, which we all instinctively shun, comes about due to conditions, namely the afflictions that lie within us and the karmic actions which they impel us to perform. This state of suffering and delusion is often illustrated by means of the so-called Wheel of Life that depicts the interlocking chains of the "twelve links of dependent origination". The third truth means that there is, however, the possibility of eliminating of all our suffering. Lastly, the fourth truth presents the true paths, or actions, that will lead to the attainment of this freedom from suffering.

The Buddha's teaching of the Four Noble Truths is often illustrated through the metaphor of healing. In order for a sick patient to overcome his or her illness, first a correct diagnosis must be made of the patient's condition. Second, the physician should examine the conditions that gave rise to the illness and that continue to sustain it. Once this has been done correctly, the physician will be in a position to assess the chance the patient has to overcome the ailment. Finally, the physician will be able to prescribe the most appropriate regimen for the patient so that he or she will be able to achieve the wellness they seek. The teachings of the Four Noble Truths encapsulate the essence of the fundamental teachings of the Buddha.

Emptiness and dependent origination

The philosophical outlook of all four Schools of Tibetan Buddhism is the Mahayana doctrine of emptiness. On this view, all things and events are said to be devoid of any intrinsic and absolute existence. They come into being due to the aggregation of multiple causes and conditions. Not only is their material existence dependent upon other factors, even their very identity as they are is contingent upon other factors, such as language, thought and concepts that together make up worldly convention. This absence of intrinsic existence and intrinsic identity is what is referred to as "emptiness" and is considered to be the ultimate truth of all things and events. One of the most profound implications of this theory of emptiness is that it suggests that all things and events come into being only by means of a process of dependent origination. They are dependent upon other factors, and this fundamental truth about the nature of reality is understood best through a language of interdependence and interrelationship of things.

The Tibetan Buddhist thinkers see this theory of emptiness as an elaboration and refinement of the basic Buddhist theory of no-self, which lies at the heart of the Buddha's teaching of the Four Noble Truths. The theory of emptiness was systematically developed as a fundamental philosophical standpoint by the well-known Indian Buddhist master Nagarjuna (circa 2nd century CE). His writings, especially the Fundamentals of the Middle Way led to the evolution of the highly influential Indian Buddhist school called the Middle Way (Madhyamaka). All four principal schools of Tibetan Buddhism perceive themselves to be proponents of the Middle Way philosophy.

The altruistic ideal

Along with the cultivation of profound philosophical insight of emptiness the development of an altruistic motivation lies at the heart of Tibetan Buddhism. This principle is often known as the Bodhisattva ideal and refers to a self-less motive born of a great compassion towards all things living. "Great compassion" refers to the spontaneous wish to see others free of sufferings simply because they are suffering creatures. It is universal, nondiscriminatory, and passionate to the point where the individual is capable of dedicating his or her entire being for the benefit of other sentient beings. Such noble beings are called bodhisattvas, individuals with heroic aspirations. Their sense of commitment to relieve others from their sufferings is such that they continue appear in the world in different manifestations to fulfil this noble aspiration.

This Bodhisattva ideal permeates the entire spectrum of Tibetan Buddhist spirituality, thought, and practice, including even the origin myths of the Tibetan people. For example, the Tibetan people believe that they have a special karmic bond with Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of compassion. He is believed to manifest in different forms such as the Dalai Lamas and continue to serve the needs and spiritual aspirations of the Tibetan people. This myth of the Buddha of compassion is portrayed also in the powerful images of the Tibetan iconography, a most famous example being the image of the thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara. Furthermore the mantra of the Buddha of compassion OM MANI PADME HUM is on the lips of all Tibetan Buddhists.

This altruistic Bodhisattva ideal is translated into action as the practice of the six perfections. They are:

The perfection of generosity
The perfection of ethical discipline
The perfection of forbearance
The perfection of vigor
The perfection of concentration
The perfection of wisdom

It is in pursuit of the perfection of these six practices that the Bodhisattva fulfills their aspiration to bring about the welfare of all sentient beings. Of the many Indian Buddhist works of Mahayana Buddhism, Nagarjuna's Precious Garland and Shantideva's Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life remain to this day the most influential texts for Tibetan Buddhists on the practice of the altruistic ideal of universal compassion. For example, the present Dalai Lama repeatedly states that the following verse from Shantideva is his greatest source of inspiration.

For as long as space endures,
For as long as sentient beings remain,
May I too abide,
And dispel the miseries of beings.

Vajrayana Buddhism

The Tibetan Buddhist traditions, in addition to perceiving themselves to be the upholders of the Mahayana teachings, identify themselves also as followers of Vajrayana, the so-called Adamantine vehicle. According to this tradition, it is not adequate simply to cultivate the altruistic aspiration to seek enlightenment for the sake of all beings. The Bodhisattva must generate this altruistic aspiration to such degree that he or she is incapable of tolerating the sight of other sentient beings suffering for even a single instant. The Vajrayana path is therefore seen as a swift path leading to the fulfillment of this basic aspiration. This swiftness of the Vajrayana path does not derive from a profound philosophical outlook, but because of the practice of most profound and sophisticated meditative methods.

Unlike other Buddhist teachings, in Vajrayana various techniques and skilful means are presented that help transform the powerful resources of such emotions as attachment, anger, hostility, jealousy, and so on into factors conducive to the path to enlightenment. These methods consist of complex visualization practices, the cultivation of the identity of a divinity, and the transcendence of the bounds of ordinary perception and self. These practices are key features of the heart of the Vajrayana meditation called deity-yoga, which is intimately connected with the visualization of the mandala. At the root of this deity-yoga practice is the unification of blissful experiences, such as those experienced through stimulation of sexual impulses, with a single-pointed concentration of mind on the emptiness of all things, known as the indivisible union of bliss and emptiness. This profound meaning of the Vajrayana path is portrayed explicitly in the complex iconography of the Tibetan Buddhist world, within which mandalas occupy a vital place. The Vajrayana meditation also includes sophisticated techniques involving the utilization of certain aspects of the human physiology such as channels, chakras (energy centers) and the vital energies that flow within them. Corresponding to which emotions are utilized on the path, there are different levels of practice, the apex of which is the Highest Yoga Tantra.

Guru-yoga as an axle of practice

All four schools of Tibetan Buddhism concur on the centrality of Guru-yoga for a successful Vajrayana practice. The heart of this meditation on Guru (the spiritual mentor) is to cultivate the perspective that enables the practitioner to view the nature of his or her own mind as being indivisible from that of the spiritual teacher and one's meditation deity. In other words, the practitioner perceives the enlightened state of his mind as actually being the Guru and also the meditation deity. There is thus a non-duality between the object of meditation (the deity), the source of inspiration (the Guru), and the meditating mind (the practitioner's own mind). Furthermore, the meditator also cultivates the pure vision of perceiving the spiritual teacher as the embodiment of all the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and meditation deities of all directions. This meditation of Guru-yoga is undertaken often in the form of a visualization of a "merit-field" which is illustrated in the form of a large tree of assembly. The image of the Lama Chöpa assembly tree is one such example.

This arrangement of the assembly tree provides a valuable glimpse into the basic topography of the Tibetan Buddhist path to enlightenment. The evocation of the masters of three lineages indicates the importance of having an uninterrupted transmission of the teachings through a succession of realized masters. The lineage of the "Profound View" pertains to the cultivation of insight into the ultimate nature of reality, while the lineage of the "Expansive Practice" relates to the development and enhancement of compassion and the altruistic aspiration to attain enlightenment for the sake of all beings. Finally, the "Experiential Lineage" evokes the mystical dimension of the path that is related more to direct, spontaneous experience often derived through the inspiration of realized masters. This, of course, pertains to the Vajrayana path. Together, these three lineages underline the importance of the union of wisdom and compassion on the basis of a deeply inspired meditative practice. This, then, is the heart of the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual practice.

The Four Noble Truths

Like all denominations of Buddhism, each of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism uphold the doctrine of the Four Noble Truths. These constitute the heart of the Buddha's first public sermon, given in the Deer Park in Sarnath, India, more than 2,500 years ago. These four Truths are

The truth of suffering
The truth of the origin of suffering
The truth of the cessation of suffering
The truth of the path that leads to the cessation of suffering

Not Far from Buddhahood - A Koan to Ponder

A university student while visiting Gasan asked him: "Have you ever read the Christian Bible?"

"No, read it to me," said Gasan.

The student opened the Bible and read from St. Matthew: "And why take ye thought for rainment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these... Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself."

Gasan said: "Whoever uttered those words I consider an enlightened man."

The student continued reading: "Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened."

Gasan remarked: "That is excellent. Whoever said that is not far from Buddhahood."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

How to Integrate Emptiness Into Daily LIfe by Lama Thubten Yeshe

What is emptiness? Emptiness (shunyata) is the reality of the existence of ourselves, and all the phenomena around us. According to the Buddhist point of view, seeking reality and seeking liberation amount to the same thing. The person who doesn't want to seek reality doesn't really want to seek liberation, and is just confused.

If you seek reality and you think that it has to be taught to you by a Tibetan Lama, that you have to look for it outside yourself, in another place - maybe Shangrila! - then you are mistaken. You cannot seek reality outside yourself because you are reality. Perhaps you think that your life, your reality was made by society, by your friends? If you think that way you are far from reality. if you think that your existence, your life was made by somebody else it means that you are not taking the responsibility to understand reality.

You have to see that your attitudes, your view of the world, of your experiences, of your girlfriend or boyfriend, of your own self, are all the interpretation of your own mind, your own imagination. They are your own projection, your mind literally made them up. If you don't understand this then you have very little chance of understanding emptiness.

This is not just the Buddhist view but also the experience of Western physicists and philosophers - they have researched into reality too. Physicists look and look and look and they simply cannot find one entity that exists in a permanent, stable way: this is the Western experience of emptiness.

If you can imagine that then you will not have any concrete concepts; if you understand this experience of physicists then you will let go of your worldly problems - but you don't want to understand.

It seems to me that we twentieth century people are against nature, against reality, the very opposite of reality. Each moment we build up our artificial, polluted ego; we cover ourselves with heavy ego blankets - one, two, ten, one hundred blankets against nature, against reality. Modern life is the product of the intellectual mind, and we create it. The intellectual mind is superstition. We don't understand reality, and the intellectual life that we lead keeps us far from reality.

So we don't accept who we are. We are always looking to cover ourselves with thick blankets and say "this is me". We hide our own reality and run away from natural beauty, completely neglecting it. By not touching our reality, our modern life becomes so complicated and we create problems with our superstition. We are like a spider spinning his web, climbing on his thread then falling down; climbing up again and falling down again. In the same way we build our own intellectual web, a way of life, that is so complicated, that doesn't touch reality, that is so difficult to live in. This construction arises from our own mind and does not arise from anything else.

If I told you that you are nothing, you are zero, that you are nothing that you think you are, then you would be shocked. "What is this monk saying?" But what if I say that it is the truth! In fact you are non duality, non self existence. You do not exist, relatively or absolutely, as you think you do. If you really understood this then you would become more realistic and you would really gain satisfaction and peace. But as long as you hold on to the fantasy, concrete conception of yourself and project this wrong conception onto your environment, then no way will you understand reality.

In Western cities nowadays, you can see, the older you are the more problems you have. When we are young, not so many problems, but then there are drugs and sex, and eventually they become dissatisfying, then more depression, more depression. So, as your body becomes bigger and your brain becomes wider, you have more and more problems and become more and more depressed. The more money you have the more problems come. You can see this.

You only take care of your body, you never take care of your mind, and the result of this imbalance is depression. For most western people this is the case: only the body is reality and they don't care about the existence of the mind, the soul, the consciousness. They don't believe they can change their minds. They can change their nose through an operation, but they don't believe they can change their mind. And when you believe this, then no way can you resolve your depression.
Our thoughts, our mind or consciousness are mental energy and cannot be localised in the body. It cannot be touched; it has no form and does not travel in time and space. We cannot touch it or grasp it.

What is important to understand is that the view you have of yourself and the view you have of your environment are based on your own mind; they are the projection of your mind and that is why they are not reality.

I will give you a good example. When a western man or woman looks for a girl or boyfriend, there is this research energy from both sides and when suddenly they see each other they make up an incredible story. "Oh, so beautiful! Nothing wrong inside or outside". They build up a perfect myth. They push and push., the mind makes it all up. If they are Christian they say, "Oh, he looks just like Jesus. She looks just like an angel. So nice, so pure". Actually, they are just projecting their own fantasies onto each other.

If she is Hindu, then he would say, "Oh, she looks like Kali, like Mother Earth, like my universal mother"...and if you are Buddhist you fold your hands and say, "Oh, she is a dakini and she is showing me the true nature of all things". You understand? "When I am near her she gives me energy, energy. Before, I was so lazy, I couldn't move, I was like a dead person. But now whenever I go near her I can't believe my energy!" I tell you all this is superstitious interpretation. You think that she is your spiritual friend and all she does is really perfect, even her kaka and pee pee are so pure! Excuse me, perhaps I shouldn't talk like this - I am a Buddhist monk! But when we speak about Buddhism, about reality then we have to speak practically, from daily life, about what is earthy, what we can touch and see, not just get caught up in concepts.

What I mean is this: you should recognise how every appearance in your daily lift is in fact a false projection of your own mind. Your own mind makes it up and becomes an obstacle to touching reality. This is why, our entire life, no matter what kind of life we have, it is a disaster. If you have a rich life, your life is a disaster. If you have a middle class life, your life is a disaster. If you have a poor life, your life is even more of a disaster! You become a monk and your life is a disaster. If you become a Christian your life is a disaster. A Buddhist, disaster... Be honest. Be honest with yourself.

In fact reality is very simple. The simplicity of the mind can touch reality, and meditation is something that goes beyond the intellect and brings the mind into its natural state. We have the pure nature already, this reality exists in us now, it is born with us... The essence of your consciousness, your truth, your soul is not absolutely negative, it does not have an essentially negative character. Our mind is like the sky and our problems of ego grasping and self pity are like clouds. Eventually they all pass and disappear. You should not believe, "I am my ego, I am my problems, therefore I cannot solve my problems". Wrong. You can see. Sometimes we are so clear in our life we are almost radiating. We can have this experience right now. Now!

So it is wrong to think that we are always a disaster. Sometimes we are clean clear, sometimes we are a disaster. So, stay in meditation, just keep in that clean clear state as much as possible. All of us can have that clean clear state of mind.
Actually, maybe this is the moment to meditate. My feeling is to meditate now. So, close your eyes, don't think, "I am meditating", just close your eyes and whatever view is there, whatever view is there in your mind, just be aware. Don't interpret good, bad. Just be like a light - light doesn't think "I like this, I like that". It is just a light. Whatever is in your consciousness, whatever experience, just be aware. That is all.

Whatever your experience at the moment, whatever your colour, whatever appearance is there, just stay aware. Be aware. If it's black energy, then that black energy is clean clear. If it's white energy, just feel that clean clear state. Be aware of whatever is happening. No interpretation ... Don't try to hold onto something or to reject something.

Excerpt from Lama Yeshe's talk at VajraYogini Institute, France, September 5, 1983.

Friday, August 12, 2011

An Essay on Shunyata - Emptiness in Buddhist Philosophy

The teachings on emptiness (Sanskrit sunyata or shunyata) find their most articulate development in the Kadampa branch of Mahayana Buddhism (Madhyamika Prasangika philosophy). To the Kadampa Buddhist nothing exists 'inherently' or 'from its own side'. All phenomena exist in dependence on three things -

1.) their causes,
2.) their parts, and
3.) their imputation by the mind of a sentient being.

And the sentient mind is NOT a physical construct or epiphenomenon of matter . The mind is clear and formless and has the power to know phenomena in a qualitative way [KELSANG GYATSO 1992], and hence give meaning to them.

To Kadampa Buddhists all things are totally empty of any defining essence. Consequently all things have no fixed identity ('inherent existence') and are are in a state of impermanence - change and flux - constantly becoming and decaying. Not only are all things constantly changing, but if we analyse any phenomenon in enough detail we come to the conclusion that it is ultimately unfindable, and exists purely by definitions in terms of other things - and one of those other things is always the mind which generates those definitions.

Kadampa Buddhism regards the persistent delusion of 'inherent existence' as a major obstacle to spiritual development, and the root of many other damaging delusions. One of these delusions is the materialist belief in an objective reality existing independently of mind. By asserting that the universe exists inherently as a brute fact, materialism denies that subjective experience has any relevance to or influence on the universe, or indeed any existence at all.

The delusion of inherent existence is deeply ingrained our our culture. It was embedded into western philosophy by the Greek philosopher Plato, who was born about sixty years after Buddha's death. Plato's view of reality is that for any class of objects there is a defining ideal form which is fixed, permanent and unchanging. All physical instances of objects tend to be imperfect. For example the wilting, mildewed roses in my garden are imperfect instances of an ideal rose which exists in a perfect realm of eternal forms. It is only by reference to this authoritative 'specification' that my mind is able to identify and name the transient physical phenomena, which 'participate' in the ideal form's attributes.

Buddha died in 483 BC. Plato was born in 428 BC. Yet it is most unlikely that Plato was aware of his predecessor's teachings. In those days there was little contact between Greek and Indian philosophy. This had to await the eastward advance of Alexander the Great around 328 BC. The first recorded contact between Greek civilisation and Buddhism is the conversation between the Greek King Milinda of Bactria, and Nagasena, a Buddhist chariot dismantler [CONZE 1959].

Empty vehicles

King Milinda was a Greek and an experienced soldier who thought he knew a chariot when he saw one. But Nagasena demonstrated that if Milinda's chariot were gradually dismantled - knock a spoke out of a wheel here, a plank off there, then a bit of the frame and so on - there was no way for Milinda to decide at exactly what step in the procedure he should stop imputing 'vehicle' and start imputing 'heap of firewood'.

Nagasena said this was because the chariot had no power to define itself from its own side. Nor was there any ideal chariot form 'in the sky' which engaged and disengaged with the timber at definite stages of assembly and disassembly.

Milinda's mind was the only thing that could make the distinction between vehicle and firewood. And there were no logical rules, stepwise procedures or decision trees for Milinda to decide when to cease imputing one thing and impute another.

As with chariots, so with cars. Everyone knows what a car is. A car is an assembly of parts. But what makes those parts into a car is surprisingly difficult to pin down. At what stage on the production line do the components finally become a car?

Does it temporarily cease to be a car when it's in for repairs and the gearbox is several yards away from the rest of the vehicle? Is my car still a car when I wake up one morning to find it supported on bricks with the wheels missing?

Or, could I say that the essential feature of a car is that it performs the functions of a car? So does it cease to be a car when it won't start? And does it return to the state of being a car when I cure the problem by spraying the electrics with moisture repellent? Does the true essence of being a car therefore reside in an aerosol can?

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. 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.

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 judgement. 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.

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

A Buddha - A Zen Koan

In Tokyo in the Meiji era there lived two prominent teachers of opposite characteristics. One, Unsho, an instructor in Shingon, kept Buddha's precepts scrupulously. He never drank intoxicants, nor did he eat after eleven o'clock in the morning. The other teacher, Tanzan, a professor of philosophy at the Imperial University, never observed the precepts. Whenever he felt like eating, he ate, and when he felt like sleeping in the daytime he slept.

One day Unsho visited Tanzan, who was drinking wine at the time, not even a drop of which is suppposed to touch the tongue of a Buddhist.

"Hello, brother," Tanzan greeted him. "Won't you have a drink?"

"I never drink!" exclaimed Unsho solemnly.

"One who does not drink is not even human," said Tanzan.

"Do you mean to call me inhuman just because I do not indulge in intoxicating liquids!" exclaimed Unsho in anger. "Then if I am not human, what am I?"

"A Buddha," answered Tanzan.

The Happy Chinaman

Anyone walking about Chinatowns in America with observe statues of a stout fellow carrying a linen sack. Chinese merchants call him Happy Chinaman or Laughing Buddha.

This Hotei lived in the T'ang dynasty. He had no desire to call himself a Zen master or to gather many disciples about him. Instead he walked the streets with a big sack into which he would put gifts of candy, fruit, or doughnuts. These he would give to children who gathered around him in play. He established a kindergarten of the streets.

Whenever he met a Zen devotee he would extend his hand and say: "Give me one penny." And if anyone asked him to return to a temple to teach others, again he would reply: "Give me one penny."

Once he was about his play-work another Zen master happened along and inquired: "What is the significance of Zen?"

Hotei immediately plopped his sack down on the ground in silent answer.

"Then," asked the other, "what is the actualization of Zen?"

At once the Happy Chinaman swung the sack over his shoulder and continued on his way.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Shunkai - A Koan

The exquisite Shunkai whose other name was Suzu was compelled to marry against her wishes when she was quite young. Later, after this marriage had ended, she attended the university, where she studied philosophy.

To see Shunkai was to fall in love with her. Moreover, wherever she went, she herself fell in love with others. Love was with her at the university, and afterwards when philosophy did not satisfy her and she visited the temple to learn about Zen, the Zen students fell in love with her. Shunkai's whole life was saturated with love.

At last in Kyoto she became a real student of Zen. Her brothers in the sub-temple of Kennin praised her sincerity. One of them proved to be a congenial spirit and assisted her in the mastery of Zen.

The abbot of Kennin, Mokurai, Silent Thunder, was severe. He kept the precepts himself and expected the priests to do so. In modern Japan whatever zeal these priests have lost for Buddhism they seemed to have gained for having wives. Mokurai used to take a broom and chase the women away when he found them in any of his temples, but the more wives he swept out, the more seemed to come back.

In this particular temple the wife of the head priest had become jealous of Shunkai's earnestness and beauty. Hearing the students praise her serious Zen made this wife squirm and itch. Finally she spread a rumor about that Shunkai and the young man who was her friend. As a consequence he was expelled and Shunkai was removed from the temple.

"I may have made the mistake of love," thought Shunkai, "but the priest's wife shall not remain in the temple either if my friend is to be treated so unjustly."

Shunkai the same night with a can of kerosene set fire to the five-hundred-year-old temple and burned it to the ground. In the morning she found herself in the hands of the police.

A young lawyer became interested in her and endeavoured to make her sentance lighter. "Do not help me." she told him. "I might decide to do something else which will only imprison me again."

At last a sentance of seven years was completed, and Shunkai was released from the prison, where the sixty-year-old warden also had become enamored of her.
But now everyone looked upon her as a "jailbird". No one would associate with her. Even the Zen people, who are supposed to believe in enlightenment in this life and with this body, shunned her. Zen, Shunkai found, was one thing and the followers of Zen quite another. Her relatives would have nothing to do with her. She grew sick, poor, and weak.

She met a Shinshu priest who taught her the name of the Buddha of Love, and in this Shunkai found some solace and peace of mind. She passed away when she was still exquisitely beautiful and hardly thirty years old.

She wrote her own story in a futile endeavour to support herself and some of it she told to a women writer. So it reached the Japanese people. Those who rejected Shunkai, those who slandered and hated her, now read of her life with tears of remorse.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hoshin's Last Poem

The Zen Master Hoshin lived in China many years. Then he returned to the northeastern part of Japan, where he taught his disciples. When he was getting very old, he told them a story he had heard in China. This is the story:

One year on the twenty-fifth of December, Tokufu, who was very old, said to his disciples: "I am not going to be alive next year so you fellows should treat me well this year."

The pupils thought he was joking, but since he was a great-hearted teacher each of them in turn treated him to a feast on succeeding days of the departing year.

On the eve of the new year, Tokufu concluded: "You have been good to me. I shall leave tomorrow afternoon when the snow has stopped."

The disciples laughed, thinking he was aging and talking nonsense since the night was clear and without snow. But at midnight snow began to fall, and the next day they did not find their teacher about. They went to the meditation hall. There he had passed on.

Hoshin, who related this story, told his disciples: "It is not necessary for a Zen master to predict his passing, but if he really wishes to do so, he can."

"Can you?" someone asked.

"Yes," answered Hoshin. "I will show you what I can do seven days from now."

None of the disciples believed him, and most of them had even forgotten the conversation when Hoshin called them together.

"Seven days ago," he remarked, "I said I was going to leave you. It is customary to write a farewell poem, but I am neither a poet or a calligrapher. Let one of you inscribe my last words."

His followers thought he was joking, but one of them started to write.

"Are you ready?" Hoshin asked.

"Yes sir," replied the writer.

Then Hoshin dictated:

I came from brillancy
And return to brillancy.
What is this?

This line was one line short of the customary four, so the disciple said: "Master, we are one line short."

Hoshin, with the roar of a conquering lion, shouted "Kaa!" and was gone.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A Simple Explaination of Buddhism - Part 1

As a child, Siddhartha the Buddha, was troubled. He wondered about birth and death. He wondered about sickness and suffering. He also wondered about happiness and the beauty in nature. He devoted his life to finding answers to the questions that troubled him and he was successful in this quest.

Buddhism is not learning about strange beliefs from faraway lands. It is about looking at and thinking about our own lives. It shows us how to understand ourselves, how to cope with our daily problems and how to live a happy, peaceful life.


Life in the Palace

Buddhism is one of the major religions in the world. It began around 2,500 years ago in India when Siddhartha Gautama discovered how to bring happiness into the world. He was born around 566 BC, in the small kingdom of Kapilavastu. His father was King Suddhodana and his mother was Queen Maya.

Soon after Prince Siddhartha was born, the wise men predicted that he would become a Buddha. When the king heard this, he was deeply disturbed, for he wanted his son to become a mighty ruler. He told Queen Maya, "I will make life in the palace so pleasant that our son will never want to leave."

At the age of sixteen, Prince Siddhartha married a beautiful princess, Yasodhara. The king built them three palaces, one for each season, and lavished them with luxuries. They passed their days in enjoyment and never thought about life outside the palace.

The Four Sights

Soon Siddhartha became disillusioned with the palace life and wanted to see the outside world. He made four trips outside the palace and saw four things that changed his life. On the first three trips, he saw sickness, old age and death. He asked himself, "How can I enjoy a life of pleasure when there is so much suffering in the world?"

On his fourth trip, he saw a wandering monk who had given up everything he owned to seek an end to suffering. "I will be like him." Siddhartha thought.


Leaving his kingdom and loved ones behind, Siddhartha became a wandering monk. He cut off his hair to show that he had renounced the worldly lifestyle and called himself Gautama. He wore ragged robes and wandered from place to place. In his search for truth, he studied with the wisest teachers of his day. None of them knew how to end suffering, so he continued the search on his own.

For six years he practiced severe asceticism thinking this would lead him to enlightenment. He sat in meditation and ate only roots, leaves and fruit. At times he ate nothing. He could endure more hardships than anyone else, but this did not take him anywhere. He thought, "Neither my life of luxury in the palace nor my life as an ascetic in the forest is the way to freedom. Overdoing things can not lead to happiness. " He began to eat nourishing food again and regained his strength.


On a full-moon day in May, he sat under the Bodhi tree in deep meditation and said. "I will not leave this spot until I find an end to suffering." During the night, he was visited by Mara, the evil one, who tried to tempt him away from his virtuous path. First he sent his beautiful daughters to lure Gautama into pleasure. Next he sent bolts of lightning, wind and heavy rain. Last he sent his demonic armies with weapons and flaming rocks. One by one, Gautama met the armies and defeated them with his virtue.

As the struggle ended, he realized the cause of suffering and how to remove it. He had gained the most supreme wisdom and understood things as they truly are. He became the Buddha, 'The Awakened One'. From then on, he was called Shakyamuni Buddha.

The Buddha Teaches

After his enlightenment, he went to the Deer Park near the holy city of Benares and shared his new understanding with five holy men. They understood immediately and became his disciples. This marked the beginning of the Buddhist community.

For the next forty-five years, the Buddha and his disciples went from place to place in India spreading the Dharma, his teachings. Their compassion knew no bounds, they helped everyone along the way, beggars, kings and slave girls. At night, they would sleep where they were; when hungry they would ask for a little food.

Whenever the Buddha went, he won the hearts of the people because he dealt with their true feelings. He advised them not to accept his words on blind faith, but to decide for themselves whether his teachings are right or wrong, then follow them. He encouraged everyone to have compassion for each other and develop their own virtue, "You should do your own work, for I can teach only the way."

He never became angry or impatient or spoke harshly to anyone, not even to those who opposed him. He always taught in such a way that everyone could understand. Each person thought the Buddha was speaking especially for him. The Buddha told his followers to help each other on the Way. Following is a story of the Buddha living as an example to his disciples.

Once the Buddha and Ananda, his attendant, visited a monastery where a monk was suffering from a contagious disease. The poor man lay in a mess with no one looking after him. The Buddha himself washed the sick monk and placed him on a new bed. Afterwards, he admonished the other monks. "Monks, you have neither mother nor father to look after you. If you do not look after each other, who will look after you? Whoever serves the sick and suffering, will understand the Dharma."

The Last Years

Shakyamuni Buddha passed away around 486 BC at the age of eighty. Although he has left the world, the spirit of his kindness and compassion remains.

The Buddha realized that that he was not the first to become a Buddha. "There have been many Buddhas before me and will be many Buddhas in the future," The Buddha recalled to his disciples. "All living beings have the Buddha nature and can become Buddhas." For this reason, he taught the way to Buddhahood.

The two main goals of Buddhism are getting to know ourselves and learning the Buddha's teachings. To know who we are, we need to understand that we have two natures. One is called our ordinary nature, which is made up of unpleasant feelings such as fear, anger, and jealousy. The other is our true nature, the part of us that is pure, wise, and perfect. In Buddhism, it is called the Buddha nature. The only difference between us and the Buddha is that we have not awakened to our true nature.