Friday, September 30, 2011

The Buddhist View

This post is based on an article by Gerald Grow,

Buddha described his message in simple terms (the Four Noble Truths) that are somewhat difficult to discuss, because they do not refer to ideas so much as to experience.

1. Life is Suffering
To live is to suffer. Life is accompanied by inevitable pain, sickness, disappointment, disillusion, decay and death. This place we live on, the earth plane, is characterized by inevitable and unavoidable dissatisfaction, disappointment, rejection, failure, pain, yearning, decrepitude, and loss. "Suffering" in Buddhism refers not only to physical pain, aging, sickness, and death, and to emotional pain like fear, loss, jealousy, disappointment, and unrequited love, but also to the existential sense that, somehow, deep down, life is permanently out of joint. Everything is touched by the shadow of dissatisfaction, imperfection, disappointment. Suffering, in the Buddhist sense, is a pervasive condition. No one escapes it. Even enlightened teachers grow old, suffer the pains of decay, and die.

2. Suffering is Caused by Attachment
Suffering arises because everything changes, everything is impermanent. Everything is in process, all the time. Whenever we hope to find any lasting happiness by means of something that is changing, suffering results. This means that nothing in the realm of ordinary human experience can provide lasting happiness, and trying to force things to stand still and make us happy is itself the main source of misery.

"Attachment" in Buddhism extends far beyond the sense of "greed" or "clinging" to something closer to what the Christian tradition would call "pride"--a self-centered isolation, the separate selfhood, "ego" in the worst sense.

This selfhood acts upon others and the world as if they were forever separate from oneself, generating "the continuous chain reaction of craving, jealousy, ill will, indifference, fear, and anxiety that fills the mind." This is a deep, pervasive, but normal kind of alienation--one seemingly built into the nature of the human nervous system.

In Buddhism, three concepts are said to characterize all things:

Anicca -- Nothing is permanent. Everything changes.

Anatta (or anatman) -- There is no separate self. What appears separate and enduring turns out to be changeable and "composite." What we experience as identity turns out to be a changing constellation of varying influences.

Dukkha -- to believe otherwise, to cling to any thing or anyone (including yourself), expecting it to be enduring, whole, and a self, is to create and amplify suffering. And we all do it -- at least until we become, we hope, enlightened.

Naturally, these concepts have been interpreted in many ways by many thoughtful people, including the Mayahana interpretation that our ordinary self is a non-self, but that we have a deep, true Buddha-nature that can be awakened.

The most pervasive form of self-centered suffering takes place as we project upon everyday experience a huge burden of extraneous interpretations, associations, fantasies, emotions, painful memories, and diversions. We act then with the Buddhist big three problems: greed, aversion, and delusion. Greed sucks things in to our purposes, violating their natures as necessary. Aversion shoves things away, denies, distorts, destroys them--again violating their natures. In the state of delusion, we float, confused, not seeing, not knowing, insulated from the pain and salvation of deep experience.

Instead of seeing each moment as it is, we react to each moment from our past pain and frustration; then we react to the pain and frustration; then we react to that reaction; and so on and on. In this way a special form of mental torment is created that consists of seemingly endless layers of pain, negative emotion, self-doubt and self-justification--known in Buddhism as "samsara," the illusory world we think of as real. It is what, in honest moments, many people might call "normality."

I think of it this way: Instead of experiencing life directly, we create a worldview and experience it. That worldview serves to protect us through a system of explanations; but it also makes each of us into an isolated self, separated from nature, from real experience, from spirituality, and from one another--causing all experience to be distorted and "out of joint," and ourselves to suffer from living at one remove from life. We are nearly always, in some degree, outsiders to the world and even to our own experience.

Buddhists have given deep attention to the ways human beings are at once empowered and entrapped by the categories we create for thought and language. Racial prejudice is a straightforward example of what Buddhists mean by suffering that is created by the mind; it is based on mental categories that distort perception and project our expectations onto others. The fundamental Buddhist act is to accept responsibility for one's projections, and to learn to know, first hand, how the mind creates illusion and amplifies suffering.

3. Freedom from Attachment is the Cure for Suffering
If we could be released from attachment, we would be released from suffering. And our primary attachment is to the concept of a separate, isolated self--from which we derive all other attachments and experience all other sufferings.

This I understand to be the central belief of Buddhism: When we fully face, accept, and lighten the self-amplified sufferings of our lives; when we begin to experience life beyond our delusions and confusions, beyond self, beyond culture, beyond knowledge--what we find is not a meaningless universe of alien forces, but our true home.

Life is real. Reality is good. Goodness, gratitude, love and joy are the natural state of the awakened heart.

When people begin to feel released from their self-sustained sufferings, they experience life more fully, they become more cheerful and compassionate. Most people have heard of the ultimate release--"nirvana"--a state of mystical unity with the cosmos. Fewer people know the moving story of how the Buddha and his major followers throughout history have approached nirvana, only to turn back from that mystical escape and devote themselves to a life of helping others in this imperfect world.

Enlightened people do not cease to experience the pain of existence. They only stop creating illusions that amplify that pain and cause new suffering. The rest of us, far from being enlightened, might try to stop making things worse than they are, to stop creating unnecessary suffering, and, by accepting life as it is, accept also the depth and vibrancy of experience.

4. The Way Out of Suffering is through the Eightfold Path
Buddha taught a method to lead away from self-sustained suffering toward a more enlightened and compassionate life--through the pursuit of morality, meditation, and wisdom, described as eight pursuits: right speech, right action, right livelihood, right concentration, right mindfulness, right effort, right understanding and right thought.

Because it avoids the extremes of asceticism and indulgence in favor of a life of moderation, nonviolence and compassion, Buddhism is known as the "Middle Way."

In the West, we tend to expect theological concepts to come in the form of logical propositions -- something that traces back at least as far as Aquinas' adaptation of Aristotle. Buddhism has a philosophical literature, to be sure, but most of the Buddhist writings encountered by lay persons seem not to be theo-logical as much as they are concepts that inspire and guide practice.

In this sense, Buddhism bears a resemblance to hatha yoga, Taoism, or tai chi. These are not systems of thought as much as they are systems of action -- practices. Theology, belief, and faith are surely intended to change the mind and heart. Practices such as the Buddhist practice of meditation and the other aspects of the eight-fold path, are another method to change the mind and heart, a method that -- as I understand it -- depends less on what you believe about God than on what you do each day.

Some Buddhist teachers emphasize the use of "skillful means," something kin to the Jesuit's willingness to adapt Catholic rituals to accommodate local customs. In skillful means, you take on a set of practices and concepts -- not because they stand for eternal truths, but because they get you somewhere. And, once you get there, once you cross the stream, you no longer need to carry the raft on your shoulders. In the words of St. Paul, you put away childish things. Indeed, perhaps all beliefs, all ideas, all concepts are but skillful means.

Buddhist Meditation
Meditation is but one part of the Buddhist path, but it is a part that is accessible to anyone, anywhere. Though Buddhist meditation cannot be learned in any depth without a teacher, the basic practice is simple. In meditation, Buddhists do not remove themselves from the world as some other schools of meditation do; rather, Buddhists practice a kind of awareness that enables them to be more fully present in the world.

Original Buddhist practices (known today as "vipassana" or "insight meditation") are sometimes austere. They may require years of daily sitting in silent meditation. In several cultures, such as Tibet, Buddhism developed into a multifaceted religion ("Mahayana" and "Vajrayana" Buddhism) which adds singing, movement, temples, ceremony, priests, scriptures, art, and other "religious" activities, so that it appeals to a greater variety of people. Still, vipassana meditation remains the underlying mental technology upon which Buddhism rests.

In a characteristic Buddhist meditation, you sit quietly and, in a non-directive way, allow attention to gently settle upon the ever-changing process of your breathing. When you become aware that your attention has shifted to something else, notice this fact, label that moment simply as "thinking," and guide your attention back to the breathing.

Why would anyone do this? Over time, this kind of mental inventory has the effect of changing the relationship you have with your thoughts and feelings. Little by little, you stop blindly reacting to them and begin to develop a space in which to choose how to respond, how to act, what to intend. You start to unhook the automatic cycle of reactivity and gain some freedom, as if your thoughts were only clouds floating across an immensely large, deep sky. It is important, however, not to blame yourself for having reactive thoughts and feelings. Those seem to be a natural part of being human. It is also natural to apply yourself in a disciplined way to learn to live less reactively.

Another instruction attributed to the Buddha directs you toward feeling love, kindness, and compassion progressively for yourself, those close to you, other people, those who have wronged you, and ultimately for all beings.

To the Western mind, it seems absurd that millions of people, sitting in silence, can change the world, end wars, improve humanity, feed the poor, care for the sick, etc. But it not so different from the Christian belief that prayer prepares one to be more loving and more just.

Meditation is an attempt to address the most fundamental causes of human misery. The Buddhist attempt to end war begins with cultivating inner peace, developing an unwavering ability to see things as they are, and treating all beings with compassion and respect.

The Buddhist View of the World
A few Buddhists concepts seem strange to the modern mind. Buddha inherited the Indian belief in reincarnation: Each person has lived before, and past lives influence how you experience this one.

More strange, Buddha said that, although people reincarnate, they have no souls. In part, this seems to be a reaction to the ancient Hindu belief in an immutable, eternal soul (atman) that migrates through many lifetimes.

In part, though, Buddha arrived at this conclusion by his radical method of awareness. Buddhism invites you to look unwaveringly at every experience and ask, "Is it solid, unchanging, whole?"

The answer, Buddhists say, is always, "No"--even when asked of the soul. Everything changes. Everything is impermanent. It is our attempt to attach ourselves to impermanent things, and gain happiness thereby, that guarantees and perpetuates suffering.

In some important ways, the Buddhist view of the universe resembles the view developed by 20th-century physics. Except for the mental categories we impose upon experience, we find nothing in experience that is immutable. There is no constant but our own misconceptions and our own doomed instinct to deny change. Every "thing" is actually a process--it arises, develops, flourishes, declines, and dissipates. All nouns are still-photos from the movie of life--which is made up of verbs. All that we see around and inside us is the result of trillions of simultaneous processes, arising and declining in a symphony of different overlapping rhythms at once. All that appears solid in this cosmos is in reality a shimmering, substanceless dance of energy in flux.

This shimmering immensity of inexhaustible becoming, out of which all things arise and to which they return, is lightly labled by such terms as emptiness, the void, the one reality, and Buddha-mind.

But where the shimmering reality of physics leaves us adrift like meaningless specks in an incomprehensible universe, Buddhism envisions a reality beyond meaning and meaninglessness, beyond knowing, beyond self, beyond duality, beyond suffering--a dance of all things, in which we can become enlightened, interconnected, and compassionate dancers.

The crucial distinction, I believe, is this: Many people have looked deeply into the human condition and come back cynical, ironic, bitter, or insane. Buddhists would say that such people did not look deeply enough into suffering to detect their own contribution to it, and hence the direction out.

Buddhists teach this: True insight leads to compassion. Insight is compassion. Seeing your own condition, your own imperfections, your own joys and thoughts, pains and disappointments, illusions and delights, shows you, not "your" separate and individual mind, but "mind" itself--the universal shared experience of all people.

Pain is not just "your" separate and individual pain. It is "the" pain that others, everywhere, feel.

Joy is not "your" separate and individual joy. It is "the" joy that others, everywhere, feel.

When you dig deep enough, all the wells run together in a place where every wave celebrates that it is the ocean moving through form after form.

People ask, "Is there a God?" "Do we live after death?" "Does life have meaning?"--To all such questions, the Buddha replied with directions to attend to the immediate problems caused by the way we use our minds to distort life and amplify suffering. He taught that we must first remove the poisoned arrow from our consciousness. Afterwards, we can have intricate discussions about where the arrow was shot from, who made it, what wood it is made from, how the point was sharpened, what kind of bow was used, and whether there is a God or an afterlife.

Meanwhile, act now to counteract the habits that poison the mind. Act now to remember the clarity, compassion, and joyfulness of your true nature. Nothing else is as urgent. And this human life, right now, is a rare, precious opportunity to choose to return to the roots of your being, avoid reactivity, and promote clarity, kindness, and compassion.

According to Buddhism as I understand it (and I am not a Buddhist, only a grateful student of human spirituality) the dance of process, continuous change, and boundless creative vitality is what is ultimately real; and we are born with the potential for knowing it directly -- and most directly in the most ordinary moments of our daily lives. As some Zen practitioners put it, everything is interconnected; therefore, if one thing is real, everything is real. So attend wholly to the one thing before you, and it will make all the rest of the universe stop reeling and become real again. And the radiance of the entire universe will dwell in that one small thing.

Where Christianity envisions Heaven and Hell, Buddhism directs our attention to the several tastes in the tea, to how the changing light shines through each particular leaf, to the way this person is speaking to us now -- and to the eternal moment inside ordinary things.

No matter what our abstracting mind and categorical language tell us, there is no dance separate from the dancers. The dancers and the dance are one. And one with us.

Koan #96 - Midnight Excursion

Many Zen pupils were studing meditation under the Zen master Sengai. One of them used to arise at night, climb over the temple wall, and go to town on a pleasure jaunt.

Sengai, inspecting the dormitory quarters, found this pupil missing one night and also discovered the high stool he had used to scale the well. Sengai removed the stool and stood there in its place.

When the wanderer returned, not knowing that Sengai was the stool, he put his feet on the master's head and jumped down into the grounds. Discovering what he had done, he was aghast.

Sengai said: "It is very chilly in the early morning. Do be careful not to catch cold yourself."

The pupil never went out at night again.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Benefits of a Buddhist Path

In Buddhism, the development of Buddha nature is synonymous with enlightenment. Knowing how to awaken that quality is a first step to Buddhist practice.

There’s an episode of the 1970s television show “Kung Fu” in which David Carradine’s character, Kwai Chang Caine, tells a woman who betrayed him “you are worth better deeds than betrayal”. Instead of telling her what she did was wrong, he took a more conscious approach. He tried to awaken her to the idea that she’s inherently better than such behavior.

The Characteristics of Buddha Nature

In Buddhism, it is believed that Buddha nature is inherent in all human beings, but just has to be realized. It’s a state of life in which a person’s highest, enlightened self, is in the driver’s seat steering his or her daily life. It is also the realization that everything in the universe is connected and essentially one thing, and relating to others based on that principle.

According to Buddhist teachings, people operating primarily by their Buddha nature possess a happiness that is not dependent upon outside circumstances. Their happiness is firmly rooted in the foundation of knowing that all humans are one and inherently divine. Therefore, there is no reason to think of anyone as higher or lower than anyone else.

Buddhists believe that if the woman in the episode of “Kung Fu” who betrayed Kwai Chang Caine had realized his and her own value; she wouldn’t have felt the need to try to manipulate a situation in her favor through the act of betrayal. Her Buddha nature would prevent that thought from ever occurring. The Buddha nature is known in other spiritual traditions as knowing thyself. Buddhist teachings try to bring people back to self realization. The source of all negative actions and suffering is within, and brought about by ignorance and delusion about one's true nature.

Most Buddhists practice meditation in one form or another to bring about a higher level of self-awareness. Some time is spent each day examining through meditation what their thought process is that brings about what Buddhists call delusion.

Once the delusions or false beliefs are realized, then slowly practitioners begin to awaken to the true nature of reality and themselves. Eventually a change is manifested at the core of their being and they begin to function more on the level of an enlightened being or Buddha. Some Buddhists call this inner transformation, human revolution.

Benefits of Enlightenment in Buddhism

The process of self-realization in the attainment of enlightenment is at the essence of Buddhist practice. It is the inner transformation that is of greatest importance in Buddhist practice. If each person can reach the point of operating primarily by their Buddha nature, the result is a more cooperative, and compassionate world.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How to Avoid Financial Crisis

It's fair to say that in Buddhism, greed is not good. Greed is one of the Three Poisons that lead to evil (akusala) and that bind us to suffering (dukkha). It also is one of the Five Hindrances to enlightenment.

Defining Greed

I've noticed that many English translations of the old Pali and Sanskrit texts use the words "greed" and "desire" interchangeably, and I want to come back to that in a bit. But first let's look at the English words.

The English word "greed" usually is defined as attempting to possess more than one needs or deserves, especially at the expense of others. We're taught from childhood that we shouldn't be greedy.

To "desire," however, is simply to want something very much. Our culture doesn't attach a moral judgment to desire. On the contrary, desire in the romantic sense is celebrated in music, art and literature.

A desire for material possessions also is encouraged, and not just through advertising. People who have earned wealth and the possessions that go with it are held up as role models. The old Calvinist notion that wealth accrues to people who are worthy of it still clanks about in our collective cultural psyche and conditions how we think about wealth. Desiring things isn't "greedy" if we feel we deserve those things.

From a Buddhist perspective, however, the distinction between greed and desire is artificial. To want passionately is a hindrance and a poison, whether one "deserves" the thing wanted or not.

Sanskrit and Pali

In Buddhism, more than one Pali or Sanskrit word is translated as "greed" or "desire." When we speak of the greed of the Three Poisons, the word for "greed" is lobha. This is an attraction to something that we think will gratify us.

As I understand it, greed is fixating on a thing we think we need to make us happy. For example, if we see a pair of shoes we think we must have, even though we have a closet full of perfectly good shoes, that is greed. And, of course, if we buy the shoes we may enjoy them for a time, but soon enough we forget the shoes and want something else.

The word translated "greed" or "desire" in the Five Hindrances is kamacchanda (Pali) or abhidya (Sanskrit), which refers to sensual desire. This kind of desire is a hindrance to the mental concentration one needs to realize enlightenment.

The Second Noble Truth teaches that trishna (Sanskrit) or tanha (Pali) -- thirst or craving -- is the cause of stress or suffering (dukkha).

Related to greed is upadana, or clinging. More specifically, upadana are attachments that cause us to remain wandering in samsara, bound to birth and rebirth. There are four main types of upadana -- attachment to senses, attachment to views, attachment to rites and rituals, and attachment to a belief in a permanent self.

The Danger of Desire

Because our culture implicitly values desire, we are unprepared for its dangers.

As I write this, the world is reeling from a financial meltdown, and entire industries are on the edge of collapse. The crisis has many causes, but a big one is that a great many people made a great many very bad decisions because they got greedy.

But because our culture looks to money-makers as heroes -- and money makers believe themselves to be wise and virtuous -- we don't see the destructive force of desire until it is too late.

The Trap of Consumerism

Much of the world's economy is fueled by desire and consumption. Because people buy things, things must be manufactured and marketed, which gives people jobs so they have money to buy things. If people stop buying things, there is less demand, and people are laid off their jobs.

Corporations that make consumer goods spend fortunes developing new products and persuading consumers through advertising that they must have these new products. Thus greed grows the economy, but as we see from the financial crisis, greed also can destroy it.

How does a lay Buddhist practice Buddhism in a culture fueled by desire? Even if we are moderate in our own wants, a great many of us depend on other people buying stuff they don't need for our jobs. Is this "right livelihood"?

Manufacturers cut the cost of products by underpaying and exploiting workers, or by cutting corners needed to protect the environment. A more responsible company may not be able to compete with an irresponsible one. As consumers, what do we do about this? It's not always an easy question to answer.

A Middle Way?

To live is to want. When we are hungry, we want food. When we are tired, we want rest. We want the company of friends and loved ones. There is even the paradox of wanting enlightenment. Buddhism doesn't ask us to renounce companionship or the things we need to live.

The challenge is to distinguish between what is wholesome -- taking care of our physical and psychological needs -- and what is unwholesome. And this takes us back to the Three Poisons and the Five Hindrances.

We don't have to run screaming from all of life's pleasures. As practice matures, we learn to distinguish between the wholesome and the unwholesome -- what supports our practice and what hinders it. This in itself is practice.

Certainly, Buddhism does not teach that there is anything wrong with working to earn money. Monastics give up material possession, but laypeople do not. The challenge is to live in a material culture without getting snared by it.

It isn't easy, and we all stumble, but with practice, desire loses its power to jerk us around.

Koan #96 - A Drop of Water

A Zen master named Gisan asked a young student to bring him a pail of water to cool his bath.

The student brought the water and, after cooling the bath, threw on to the ground the little that was left over.

"You dunce!" the master scolded him. "Why didn't you give the rest of the water to the plants? What right have you to waste even a drop of water in this temple?"

The young student attained Zen in that instant. He changed his name to Tekisui, which means a drop of water.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Zen and Recovery in AA - Two Stories

Here are two stories about Zen Buddhist nuns who are/were AA members. Very interesting and thoughtful reflections on their experiences.

Story by Rev. J.J. Kyoji Anderson

I have been a sober member of AA for 19 years and a Zen student for a relatively shorter period, close to 10 years. I am constantly struck by the interconnectedness of the two paths, which for me are really not separate but a continuation of the same path. For me, the movement from AA into Zen practice has been a natural flow, a deepening of my own spiritual quest. The core teachings of AA and Zen Buddhism are essentially the same: “ego deflation in depth” in AA terms or, in Zen terms, the killing of ego, which brings about transformation. Simply put, zazen contains the core principles of AA.

What brought me, and what brings all alcoholics to AA, was a feeling of total spiritual and emotional bankruptcy—as my sponsor used to say, “Being sick and tired of being sick and tired.” This mirrors the experience of a beginning Zen student. Nyogen Roshi talks about his own spiritual bankruptcy—his pain and desperation in the world of samsara—which was the motivation for his spiritual search. I think most Zen students have similar feelings and experiences when they come to the practice; I know I did.

The first step in AA is kin to the First Noble Truth: life is suffering. Both have to do with powerlessness—admitting, “My life is unmanageable.” I think all Zen students and alcoholics in recovery have to realize the First Noble Truth to some degree.

My understanding of step two, the belief that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity, has changed over the last 19 years. Since I began to study at the Hazy Moon, my perspective has transformed dramatically. I used to think that a “power greater than myself” was something bigger and all-powerful that was outside of me. Now my interpretation of this step has evolved from a “power greater than myself” to my “true self” or “Buddha nature,” which is not something outside or separate from me. I see the self in this step as my egocentric self, which is always driven by the three poisons (greed, anger and ignorance). My insanity is born of my ego—always grasping and rejecting, never accepting things as they are. Roshi tries to get us to see how everything ego-driven leads to suffering. But he also tells us there is a way out, which is the Third and Fourth Noble Truth (and step three in AA).

We “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.” This step is the heart of my Zen practice, which is basically an endless act of surrendering. By surrender I mean letting go of ego-driven clinging, constantly letting go of my notion of how I think it should be. I have to let go of the planning and judgment that keeps me separate from life unfolding all around me. This is not easy; most of the time I only surrender if I am in extreme pain and suffering. The good or bad news, depending on your point of view, is that I am now less tolerant of the discomfort I cause myself, which means I surrender with less of a fight. When I stop fighting everything and everybody, my life flows and things fall into place. “The way knows no difficulty,” a teacher in our lineage once said. The way is zazen.

On page 449 in the Big Book we hear, “Acceptance is the answer to all of my problems today… accepting life on life’s terms.” As it is, we say in Zen. If I have expectations, I am not here, present in this moment, and therefore I suffer and cause suffering. That’s so simple, yet so difficult to actualize. Roshi tells us that the most wonderful treasure is right here for all of us. We don’t have to go anywhere to get it because it’s “closer than the skin on your nose.”

When I first came to AA, I could not live without alcohol. AA saved my life by giving me a solid spiritual foundation, which has naturally and seamlessly evolved into my Zen practice at the Hazy Moon.

Story By Kujaku

October 2, 2005: One of the worst hangovers I ever had (trust me, I’d had many). What made this hung-over morning different from the others? I guess I decided that I was very tired of being sick and tired.

That afternoon I walked into my first 12-step program. There I was sitting in a room full of people who were addicted to alcohol and drugs. So this is what I have become, I thought. A drunk and a loser with no self control.

I listened to the stories of people who were facing all kinds of addictions. After hearing their stories, realized that I could relate to them. I realized that I was one of them.

The next realization, however, was a little tougher to grasp. I was advised that I also had a spiritual problem. Me, the one who attends church every Sunday? Still, a question kept nagging at me. Why did I feel I needed to drink a bottle and a half of wine the night before? Maybe there was something to this spiritual thing.

The people in my program talked about how they learned to connect to their spiritual source. They called it a higher power, but they told me I could call it what ever I wanted. Since I was a Catholic, God seemed to be the appropriate word for me to use. For others it was the forest or the ocean. Some people even found their higher power in the rooms of the 12-step programs they attended.

I worked through the 12 steps and got a great deal out of them. But after a while, I felt that I was still missing something. I was beginning to feel stagnant. Worst of all I still had these awful thoughts and feelings. If anyone talks to a group of alcoholics and asks why they drink, the most common response is, “So I don’t have to feel or think anymore.”

Looking back at my years of drinking, I would say that this was probably my number one reason for hitting the bottle. I don’t think I realized this until I quit. When I stopped drinking, a sudden flurry of feelings and thoughts hit me. What was I suppose to do with them? I had been numbing myself with alcohol; now I had to learn how to tolerate feeling and thinking. No one had ever taught me how to do that.

At that point I was working on the 12th step, which encourages you to connect to your higher power through prayer and mediation. That’s when it occurred to me to try zazen.

My husband had introduced me to Zen in the 1990s. He had practiced for several years under Maezumi Roshi at the Zen Center of Los Angeles and then under Nyogen Roshi, one of Maezumi’s successors, at the Hazy Moon. I had occasionally tried to meditate, and I’d listened to a few Dharma talks by both Maezumi Roshi and Nyogen Roshi, but after two sober years of 12-stepping, I was finally ready to take a good long look at the teachings of Zen.

Nyogen Roshi instructed me to count my breath from one to ten and then start over again. This is done to quiet the mind--to give the thinking mind something to focus on. If you’re alcoholic, you know how difficult it is to keep that brain in your head quiet.

This practice really works for me. When I find myself starting a storyline of “pity and woe” or “what if this and what if that,” I go back to counting my breath. I’ve learned that I can’t stop the thoughts from coming up, so I shouldn’t try to stop them. The good news is that I am also learning that my thoughts aren’t me.

I finally have glimpses of peace. There is nothing really earth-shattering about it. It’s more like an underlying feeling that everything is okay. I’m okay, everyone around me is okay and the world is as it should be. Whenever I start getting fearful or angry or “edgy,” it’s usually because I have started attaching to my thoughts—I’m in my head again. But now I can recognize what’s happening. I can use my practice to get out of my head and ease the pain I create for myself.

In a recent Dharma talk, a senior student related a story about how, when she had accidentally scalded her hand with hot water, she realized, “Oh, this is real pain, not the stuff I create for myself.” I could so relate to that! Now, when I realize that I’m dishing up painful thoughts for myself, that’s the cue for me to start counting my breath again.

I enjoy meditation, even if I’m still just scratching the surface of it. I still get scared, angry, and edgy--I still get stuck in my head now and then. But I keep coming back to my breath, and things keep getting better. That’s why they call it a practice!

An Essay on Anger

by Lama Zopa Rinpoche

During a teaching at Vajrapani Institute in Boulder Creek California on May 23, Lama Zopa Rinpoche explained various ways to deal with anger—one's own anger and the anger of others directed at oneself.

Emptiness is a remedy for the foundation of all delusions—ignorance—so all the other delusions will disappear. The minute one meditates on emptiness, anger for example, will stop. Anger arises when you believe in the false I, false object—all this which does not exist. So when one meditates on emptiness of the self and other objects, there is no foundation for anger. This is the most powerful antidote. But if it arises again, it is because there is no continuation of the meditation; the meditation, the mindfulness, has stopped. The problem is to remember the technique. Once you remember the technique, it always works. When you don't remember the technique, it is delayed and the delusion, anger and so forth, has already arisen and taken you over.

One thing I tell people is always to think about karma. His Holiness always says Buddhists don't believe in God. This basic Buddhist philosophy helps you remember there is no separate mind outside of yours that creates your life, creates you karma. Whatever happens in one's own life comes from one's own mind. These aggregates, all the views of the senses, all of the feelings, happiness, sadness and so forth—your whole world comes from your consciousness. The imprints of past good karma and negative karma left on the consciousness manifest, become actualized. The imprints to have a human body, senses, views, aggregates, all the feelings—everything is realized at this time, and all of it comes from consciousness, from karma.

If your meditation on emptiness is not effective, this teaching of karma is very powerful for us ordinary beings. The minute one meditates on karma, there is no room in the mind for anger because there is nothing to blame. Thinking of karma is practicing the basic Buddhist philosophy that there is no creator other than your mind. It is not only a philosophy but a very powerful technique. Anger is based on believing in a creator: somebody created this problem; this happened because of this person. In daily life, when a problem arises, instead of practicing the philosophy of no creator, we act as if there is a creator, that the problem was created by somebody else. Even if we don't use the word God, we still believe someone else created the problem. The minute you think of karma and realize there is no creator, there is no basis for the anger.

We need to think: In the past I gave such a harm to sentient beings, therefore I deserve to receive this harm from another sentient being. When you get angry what you are actually saying is that you can harm others, but you feel that you should not receive harm from others. This is very illogical. So in this practice you say, 'I deserve this harm.'

Another practice is to use this situation to develop compassion: I received this harm because of my karma. Who started all this? It's not because of the other person, it's because of your own actions. You treated other sentient beings this way in the past, that is why you receive harm now; your karma persuaded the person to harm you now. Now this person has a human birth and they harm you because of something you inspired in the past. By harming you now they are creating more negative karma to lose their human rebirth and to be reborn in lower realms. Didn't I make that person get lost in the lower realms?

In this way you are using that problem to generate bodhicitta. This means one is able to develop the whole Mahayana path to enlightenment, including the six paramitas, whether sutra path or tantra path. One can cease all mistakes of the mind and achieve full enlightenment. Due to the kindness of that person you are able to generate compassion, free sentient beings from all the sufferings, to bring enlightenment, to cause perfect happiness for all sentient beings.

One can also think in this way: by practicing compassion on that person, one is able to generate compassion towards all sentient beings. This person, who is so kind, so precious, is helping you stop harming all sentient beings, and on top of that, to receive help from you. By not receiving harm from you, peace and happiness come; also, by receiving help from you, numberless sentient get peace and happiness. All this peace and happiness that you are able to offer all sentient beings comes from this person.

Similarly, one can practice patience in this way and is able to cease anger. In the Kadampas' advice, there are six techniques for practicing patience; I don't need to go over all that now. They are good to memorize, to write down in a notebook, in order to use.

Another thing that is very good is what Pabongka Rinpoche explains in Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand: generally speaking one doesn't get angry at the stick that the person used to beat you. The stick itself is used by the person, so therefore there is no point in getting angry at the stick. Similarly, the person's body, speech and mind are completely used by the anger, by the delusion. The person's body, speech and mind become like a slave, completely used as a tool of the anger. The person themself has no freedom at all—no freedom at all. So therefore, since the person has no freedom at all, they should become an object of our compassion. Not only that, one must take responsibility to pacify that person's anger. By whatever means you can find, help the person's mind, pacify the anger; even if there is nothing you can do, pray to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha to pacify the person's mind.

What His Holiness teaches is to meditate on how that person is kind, how that person is precious like Dharma, precious like Buddha, precious like Guru; kind like Buddha, like Guru. The conclusion is that if no one has anger towards us, we can never develop patience. If everybody loves us then we can never generate the precious quality of patience, the path of patience. So therefore there is an incredible need in our life for someone to have anger towards us. It is so precious, so important that someone has anger towards us. It's not precious for that person, but for us it's very precious. For that person it's torturous, it's like living in the lower realms. But for us, that person having anger towards us is so precious. We have a great need for this, a great need.

It's important that someone loves you, but it is even more important that someone has anger towards you. You see, if someone loves you it does not help you benefit numberless sentient beings or actualize the entire path to enlightenment. So why is this person the most precious thing to me. Because they are angry with you. To you, this person's anger is like a wish-granting jewel.

Also, your anger destroys merit, destroys your happiness, not only in day to day life but in long term happiness. As Bodhicaryavatara mentions, one moment of anger delays realizations for one thousand eons. Anger is a great obstacle, especially for bodhicitta realizations. Therefore, because this person is angry towards me, I am able to develop patience and overcome my own anger and complete the entire path to enlightenment. One can complete the two types of merit, cease all the obscurations, achieve enlightenment, and free all sentient beings and lead them to enlightenment.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Koan #101 - Buddha's Zen

Buddha said: "I consider the positions of kings and rulers as that of dust motes. I observe treasures of gold and gems as so many bricks and pebbles. I look upon the finest silken robes as tattered rags. I see myriad worlds of the universe as small seeds of fruit, and the greatest lake in India as a drop of oil on my foot. I perceive the teachings of the world to be the illusion of magicians. I discern the highest conception of emancipation as a golden brocade in a dream, and view the holy path of the illuminated ones as flowers appearing in one's eyes. I see meditation as a pillar of a mountain, Nirvana as a nightmare of daytime. I look upon the judgment of right and wrong as the serpentine dance of a dragon, and the rise and fall of beliefs as but traces left by the four seasons."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Koan #68- One Note of Zen

After Kakua visited the emperor he disappeared and no one knew what became of him. He was the first Japanese to study Zen in China, but since he showed nothing of it, save one note, he is not remembered for having brought Zen into his country.

Kakua visited China and accepted the true teaching. He did not travel while he was there. Meditating constantly, he lived on a remote part of a mountain. Whenever people found him and asked him to preach he would say a few words and then move to another part of the mountain where he could be found less easily.

The emperor heard about Kakua when he returned to Japan and asked him to preach Zen for his edification and that of his subjects.Kakua stood before the emperor in silence. He then produced a flute from the folds of his robe, and blew one short note. Bowing politely, he disappeared.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Koan #86 - The Living Buddha and the Tubmaker

Zen masters give personal gidance in a secluded room. No one enters while teacher and pupil are together.

Mokurai, the Zen master of Kennin temple in Kyoto, used ot enjoy talking with merchants and newspapermen as well as with his pupils. A certain tubmaker was almost illiterate. He would ask foolish questions of Mokurai, have tea, and then go away.

One day while the tubmaker was there Mokurai wished to give personal guidance to a disciple, so he asked the tubmaker to wait in another room.

"I understand you are a living Buddha," the man protested. "Even the stone Buddhas in the temple never refuse the numerous persons who come together before them. Why then should I be excluded?"

Mokurai had to go outside to see his disciple.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Koan #81 - Just Go To Sleep

Gasan was sitting at the bedside of Tekisui three days before his teacher's passing. Tekisui had already chosen him as his successor.

A temple recently had burned and Gasan was busy rebuilding the structure. Tekisui asked him: "What are you going to do when you get the temple rebuilt?"

"When your sickness is over we want you to speak there," said Gasan.

"Suppose I do not live until then?"

"Then we will get someone else," replied Gasan.

"Suppose you cannot find anyone?" continued Tekisui.

Gasan answered loudly: "Don't ask such foolish questions. Just go to sleep."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Koan #85 - Time To Die

Ikkyu, the Zen master, was very clever even as a boy. His teacher had a precious teacup, a rare antique. Ikkyu happened to break this cup and was greatly perplexed. Hearing the footsteps of his teacher, he held the pieces of the cup behind him. When the master appeared, Ikkyu asked: "Why do people have to die?"

"This is natural," explained the older man. "Everything has to die and has just so long to live."

Ikkyu, producing the shattered cup, added: "It was time for your cup to die."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Koan #100 - The Silent Temple

Shoichi was a one-eyed teacher of Zen, sparkling with enlightenment. He taught his disciples in Tofuku temple.

Day and night the whole temple stood in silence. There was no sound at all.

Even the reciting of sutras was abolished by the teacher. His pupils had nothing to do but meditate.

When the master passed away, an old neighbor heard the ringing of bells and the recitation of sutras. Then she knew Shoichi had gone.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Koan #91 - A Taste of Banzo's Sword

Matajuro Yagyu was the son of a famous swordsman. His father, believing that his son's work was too mediocre to anticipate mastership, disowned him.

So Matajuro went to Mount Futara and there found the famous swordsman Banzo. But Banzo confirmed the father's judgment. "You wish to learn swordsmanship under my guidance?" asked Banzo. "You cannot fulfill the requirements."

"But if I work hard, how many years will it take me to become a master?" persisted the youth.

"The rest of your life," replied Banzo.

"I cannot wait that long," explained Matajuro. "I am willing to pass through any hardship if only you will teach me. If I become your devoted servant, how long might it be?"

"Oh, maybe ten years," Banzo relented.

"My father is getting old, and soon I must take care of him," continued Matajuro. "If I work far more intensively, how long would it take me?"

"Oh, maybe thirty years," said Banzo.

"Why is that?" asked Matajuro. "First you say ten and now thirty years. I will undergo any hardship to master this art in the shortest time!"

"Well," said Banzo, "in that case you will have to remain with me for seventy years. A man in such a hurry as you are to get results seldom learns quickly."

"Very well," declared the youth, understanding at last that he was being rebuked for impatience, "I agree."

Matajuro was told never to speak of fencing and never to touch a sword. He cooked for his master, washed the dishes, made his bed, cleaned the yard, cared for the garden, all without a word of swordsmanship.

Three years passed. Still Matajuro labored on. Thinking of his future, he was sad. He had not even begun to learn the art to which he had devoted his life.

But one day Banzo crept up behind him and gave him a terrific blow with a wooden sword.

The following day, when Matajuro was cooking rice, Banzo again sprang upon him unexpectedly.

After that, day and night, Matajuro had to defend himself from unexpected thrusts. Not a moment passed in any day that he did not have to think of the taste of Banzo's sword.

He learned so rapidly he brought smiles to the face of his master. Matajuro became the greatest swordsman in the land.

Koan #76 - The Stone Mind

Hogen, a Chinese Zen teacher, lived alone in a small temple in the country. One day four traveling monks appeared and asked if they might make a fire in his yard to warm themselves.

While they were building the fire, Hogen heard them arguing about subjectivity and objectivity. He joined them and said: "There is a big stone. Do you consider it to be inside or outside your mind?"

One of the monks replied: "From the Buddhist viewpoint everything is an objectification of mind, so I would say that the stone is inside my mind."

"Your head must feel very heavy," observed Hogen, "if you are carrying around a stone like that in your mind."

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Buddhism and World Peace, Part 2

War is not something abstract. War is waged between one group of individuals and another. The reasons for war are also not abstract. It is individuals who decide to wage war. Even if the war is global, its beginning can be traced back to the decisions of individuals.

Wars begin because the people of one country, or really, their rulers, have unfulfilled desires--they are greedy for wealth or power, or they are angry or hateful. Either their desires have been thwarted or their pride has been offended. This can also manifest as racial or national arrogance. They believe their problems, which are only in their minds, can be solved by external means.


Four years after the Buddha's enlightenment, a war took place between the city-states of Kapilavastu and Kilivastu over the use of water. Being told of this, the Buddha Sakyamuni hastened back to Kapilavastu and stood between the two great armies about to start fighting. At the sight of Sakyamuni, there was a great commotion among the warriors, who said, "Now that we see the World-Honored One, we cannot shoot the arrows at our enemies," and they threw down their weapons. Summoning the chiefs of the two armies, he asked them, "Why are you gathered here like this?" "To fight," was their reply. "For what cause do you fight?" he queried. "To get water for irrigation." Then, asked Sakyamuni again, "How much value do you think water has in comparison with the lives of men?" "The value of water is very slight" was the reply. "Why do you destroy lives which are valuable for valueless water?" he asked. Then, giving some allegories, Sakyamuni taught them as follows: "Since people cause war through misunderstanding, thereby harming and killing each other, they should try to understand each other in the right manner." In other words, misunderstanding will lead all people to a tragic end, and Sakyamuni exhorted them to pay attention to this. Thus the armies of the two city-states were dissuaded from fighting each other.

Karma teaches that force and violence, even to the level of killing, never solves anything. Killing generates fear and anger, which generates more killing, more fear, and more anger, in a vicious cycle without end. If you kill your enemy in this life, he is reborn, seeks revenge, and kills you in the next life. When the people of one nation invade and kill or subjugate the people of another nation, sooner or later the opportunity will present itself for the people of the conquered nation to have their revenge upon the conquerors. Has there ever been a war that has, in the long run, really resolved any problem in a positive manner? In modern times the so-called 'war to end all wars' has only led to progressively larger and more destructive wars.

The emotions of killing translate into more and more deaths as the weapons of killing become more and more sophisticated. In prehistoric times, a caveman could explode with anger, take up his club, and bludgeon a few people to death. Nowadays, if, for example, the President of the United States loses his temper, who can tell how many will lose their lives as the result of the use of our modern weapons.

And in the present we are on the brink of a global war that threatens to extinguish permanently all life on the planet. When will that happen? Perhaps when the collective selfishness of individuals to pursue their own desires--greed for sex, wealth and power; the venting of frustrations through anger, hatred and brutal self-assertion--overcomes the collective compassion of individuals for others, overcomes their respect for the lives and aspirations of others.

Then the unseen collective pressure of mind on mind will tip the precarious balance, causing the finger, controlled ostensibly by an individual mind, to press the button that will bring about nuclear Armageddon. When the individual minds of all living beings are weighted, if peaceful minds are more predominant, the world will tend to be at peace; if violent minds are more predominant, the world will tend to be at war.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Koan #82 - Nothing Exists

Yamaoka Tesshu, as a young student of Zen, visited one master after another. He called upon Dokuon of Shokoku.

Desiring to show his attainment, he said: "The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no relaization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received."

Dokuon, who was smoking quietly, said nothing. Suddenly he whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This made the youth quite angry.

"If nothing exists," inquired Dokuon, "where did this anger come from?"

Friday, September 16, 2011

Buddhism and World Peace

Buddhism teaches that whether we have global peace or global war is up to us at every moment. The situation is not hopeless and its not out of our hands. If we don't do anything, who will? Peace or war is our decision.

The fundamental goal of Buddhism is peace, not only peace in this world but peace in all worlds. The Buddha taught that the first step on the path to peace is understanding the causality of peace. When we understand what causes peace, we know where to direct our efforts. We can take many actions in our quest for peace that may be helpful. But if we do not first address the fundamental issues, the things that cause peace, all other actions will come to naught.

The Buddha taught that peaceful minds lead to peaceful speech and peaceful actions. If our minds are at peace, the world will be at peace. So, who has a peaceful mind?

The overwhelming majority of us live in the midst of mental storms that subside only for brief and treasured moments. If we wait for all beings in the world to become calm and peaceful sages, what chance is there of a peaceful world for us? Is there any possibility of reducing the levels of violence in the world and of successfully abating the winds of war if our minds are not completely at peace?

The Buddha taught that all forms of life use the same fundamental spiritual source, which he called the enlightened nature or the Buddha-nature. He did not see essential differences in the spiritual condition of human beings and other forms of life. In fact, according to Buddhist teachings, after death a human being is reborn, perhaps again as a human being or possibly in the animal world. Likewise, animals, in certain circumstances, can be reborn as human beings. All sentient beings are seen as passing through the unending cycle of the wheel of rebirth. They are born, they grow old, become sick, and die. They are reborn, grow old, get sick and die, over and over and over again.

What determines how you are reborn is karma. Whether you obtain a human body, whether male or female, or that of an animal is karma. Whether you have a body that is healthy or sickly, whether you are smart or stupid, whether your family is rich or poor, whether your parents are compassionate or cruel -- all that is karma.

Karma is a Sanskrit word that is derived from the semantic root meaning 'to do'. It refers to activity -- mental, verbal, and physical--as governed by the complex patterns of cause and effect. There are two basic kinds of karma--individual and shared.

Individual karma is not limited to a single lifetime. What you did in your past lives determines your situation in your present life. If you did good deeds in past lives, the result will be an auspicious rebirth. If your actions in past lives were predominantly bad, your situation in the present will be inauspicious. If in this life you act more like an animal than a human being, your next rebirth will be as an animal.

Shared karma refers to our net of inter-relationships with other people, non-human beings, and our environment. There is a certain group of people who live in similar locations and perceive their surrounding in the same way. Because that particular shared situation their karma is the fruition of their former actions.

The doctrine of karma is not deterministic. Rather, it is a philosophy of radical personal responsibility. Although your present situation in every moment is determined by your past actions, your action in the present moment, in the present circumstances, can be totally unconditioned and, therefore, totally free. It is true that you may mindlessly react according to the strengths of your habits -patterns, but that doesn't have to be the case. The potential for you to act mindfully and freely is always there. It is up to you to realize that you have a choice and to make it. This realization is the beginning of true spiritual growth.

The Buddha taught that the fundamental cause of all suffering is ignorance. The basic ignorance is our failure to understand that the self, which is at the center of all of our lives, which determines the way in which we see the world, which directs our actions for our own ease and benefit, is an illusion. The illusion of the self is the cause of all our suffering. We want to protect our self from the dangers of the constant flux of life. We want to exempt ourselves from change, when nothing in the world is exempt from change.

Life centered on self naturally tends toward the selfish. Selfishness poisons us with desire and greed. When it is not fulfilled, we tend to become angry and hateful. These basic emotional conditions keep us from reaching the best of our minds and cut us off from our own intuitive wisdom and compassion; our thoughts and actions then come from deluded and superficial views.

To Be Continued...uh, when I get it written...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Koan #98 - Non-Attachment

Kitano Gempo, abbot of Eihei temple, was ninety-two years old when he passed away in the year 1933. He endeavored his whole like not to be attached to anything. As a wandering mendicant when he was twenty he happened to meet a traveler who smoked tobacco. As they walked together down a mountain road, they stopped under a tree to rest. The traveler offered Kitano a smoke, which he accepted, as he was very hungry at the time.

"How pleasant this smoking is," he commented. The other gave him an extra pipe and tobacco and they parted.

Kitano felt: "Such pleasant things may disturb meditation. Before this goes too far, I will stop now." So he threw the smoking outfit away.

When he was twenty-three years old he studied I-King, the profoundest doctrine of the universe. It was winter at the time and he needed some heavy clothes. He wrote his teacher, who lived a hundred miles away, telling him of his need, and gave the letter to a traveler to deliver. Almost the whole winter passed and neither answer nor clothes arrived. So Kitano resorted to the prescience of I-King, which also teaches the art of divination, to determine whether or not his letter had miscarried. He found that this had been the case. A letter afterwards from his teacher made no mention of clothes.

"If I perform such accurate determinative work with I-King, I may neglect my meditation," felt Kitano. So he gave up this marvelous teaching and never resorted to its powers again.

When he was twenty-eight he studied Chinese calligraphy and poetry. He grew so skillful in these arts that his teacher praised him. Kitano mused: "If I don't stop now, I'll be a poet, not a Zen teacher." So he never wrote another poem.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Koan #71 - Learning to Be Silent

The pupils of the Tendai school used to study meditation before Zen entered Japan. Four of them who were intimate friends promised one another to observe seven days of silence.

On the first day all were silent. Their meditation had begun auspiciously, but when night came and the oil lamps were growing dim one of the pupils could not help exclaiming to a servant: "Fix those lamps."

The second pupil was surprised to hear th first one talk. "We are not supposed to say a word," he remarked.

"You two are stupid. Why did you talk?" asked the third.

"I am the only one who has not talked," concluded the fourth pupil.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Your Light May Go Out - Koan #52

A student of Tendai, a philosophical school of Buddhism, came to the Zen abode of Gasan as a pupil. When he was departing a few years later, Gasan warned him: "Studying the truth speculatively is useful as a way of collecting preaching material. But remember that unless you meditate constantly your light of truth may go out."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Buddhist Morals - The First Precept

Usually religions derive their ideas of right and wrong from a list of rules or commandments from their god. Since there is no god in Buddhism and no commandments to adhere to, how do Buddhists develop a sense of right and wrong? There are many teachings on moral behavior, but today I want to talk about The Precepts, the First Precept, again.

Any thoughts, speech or actions that are rooted in greed, hatred and delusion and lead us away from enlightenment are bad and any thoughts, speech or actions that are rooted in giving, love and wisdom and thus help clear the way to enlightenment are good.

To know what is right and wrong in god-centered religions, all you need to do is to do as you are told. In a human-centered religion like Buddhism, to know what is right or wrong, you have to develop a self-awareness and self-understanding. Ethics based on understanding are always stronger than those that are a response to a command. So to know what is right and wrong, Buddhists look at three things:

1.) the intention

2.) the effect the act will have upon oneself

3.) the effect it will have upon others

If the intention is good - based in giving, love and wisdom - if it helps myself -helps me to be more giving, more loving and wiser - and help others - helps them to be more giving, more loving and wiser - then my deeds and actions are wholesome, good and moral.

This gets a bit complicated – at least it does in my mind. There are many variations of actions, intentions and results:

1). Sometimes I act with the best of intentions, but it may not benefit either myself or others.

2.) Sometimes my intentions are far from good, but my action helps others anyway.

3.) Sometimes I act out of good intentions and my acts help me but perhaps cause some distress to others.

In such cases, my actions are mixed - a mixture of good and not-so-good. When intentions are bad and the action helps neither myself or others, such an action is bad. And when my intention is good and my action benefits both myself and others, then the deed is wholly good.

The Five Precepts are the basis of Buddhist morality. The first precept is to avoid killing or harming living beings. The second is to avoid stealing, the third is to avoid sexual misconduct, the fourth is to avoid lying and the fifth is to avoid alcohol and other intoxicating drugs.

What about Killing?

The question of killing something, like a disease spreading insect, often comes up – how can that fit into the precept of avoiding killing or harming other living beings? Wouldn’t it be a good thing to kill insects that spread diseases to human beings? Well, it might be good for you, but what about the insect? It wants to live as much as we do. So when we decide to kill a disease spreading insect, our intention is a mixture of self-concern – good – and revulsion – bad. The act will benefit us, but obviously it will not be beneficial to the insect. At times, it may become necessary to kill, but to kill is never wholly good.

Buddhists strive to develop a compassion that is unbiased and all-embracing. They see the world as a unified whole, where each thing has its place and function. They believe that before we destroy or upset the balance of nature, we should be very careful.

Look at cultures where the emphasis is on exploiting nature to the fullest, squeezing every last drop out of it without putting anything back - conquering and subduing. Nature has revolted. The very air is poisoned, the rivers are polluted and dead, so many beautiful animal species are extinct, gone forever. Slopes of the mountains are eroded. Even the climate is changing. If people were a little less anxious to crush, destroy and kill, this terrible situation may not have arisen. We should all strive to develop a little more respect for life.

This is what the first precept is saying.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Buddhist Thought on Forgiveness

The topic of forgiveness may seem to be remote to the concerns of Buddhism. Buddhism does not realize ultimate truth through the need of the intercession a personal God. Its concepts of error and contamination do not readily translate into the Biblical concepts of sin and guilt.

The Buddhist solution to ‘unwholesome deeds’ and situations is to overcome them by following the path that leads to release; acts of pardon and grace have little to do with it. In Buddhist texts, the emphasis falls not on forgiving, but on the foolishness of taking offense in the first place:

He abused me, he struck me, he overcame me, he robbed me”—in those who harbor such thoughts hatred will never cease.

He abused me, he struck me, he overcame me, he robbed me”—in those who do not harbor such thoughts hatred will cease. "

-- Dhammapada 1.3–4

In contrast, Biblical rhetoric is full of references to enemies, slanderers, persecutors. Buddhism will offer a way to reveal a delusion here, rather than talk of forgiving enemies and blessing persecutors. Biblical salvation is atonement for evils that have already occurred. Buddhist salvation is more an effort to prevent the evils from happening in the first place. When they have already happened, Buddhism proceeds to take them apart by going back to their roots and following a behavioral discipline that will prevent the need for forgiveness in the first place.

There is tension between Buddhist wisdom and the Christian conviction regarding ultimate reality. Buddhists grasp ultimate reality (emptiness) in impersonal terms and regard ideas of a personal creator as a basically an unskillful way to attain realization of ultimate reality. The Christian conviction is that ultimate reality is concretely realized by capitulating to a personal God.

The two ideas are not necessarily incompatible. Christians may remain convinced of the supremacy of a personal God and at the same time continue to allow impersonal conceptions to help achieve understanding and forgiveness. Impersonal concept, though, provides a perspective that prevents the drama of sin and forgiveness by the need to be reduced to a child- like state to placate an offended father.

In Buddhism, especially the Mahayana Tradition, salvation centers not on forgiveness but on release from delusion and suffering by meditating on the nature of reality. Buddhism questions the reality of the passion that make forgiveness necessary and also questions the reality (or inherent existence) of the objects of those passions. Anger, resentment, and hatred are delusions, and so is the crime or offense the other is thought to have committed.

Even if these Buddhist ideas are totally wrong, it would still be a useful action to meditate on them at a time when the world around seems so frightening and murderous.

The person who is holding resentful thoughts may well have been abused or robbed, but dwelling on this keeps him in delusion and fixation. Memories of past offenses plays a huge role in our culture today, and there is not enough thought or consideration of the dangers of clinging to these memories. Current thought makes the hurt, anger, traumatization felt by victims into a sacred cow that cannot be questioned. Instead of seeking to heal and rid them of their wounds, victims are encouraged to constantly nag at them and to seek “closure”.

Hatred is regarded as strength rather than poison. One must understand the rage of the injured and abused, but without forgetting how rage tends to become blind and rigid, feeding on itself. Rage finds its outlets in destructive acts. Its delusional aspects must be undone if the energy fueling indignation and victimization is to be changed into useful action.

Equanimity, or the steadiness of the mind, is the attitude most prized in Buddhism, not only because it is the state that causes the practice of loving-kindness and compassion, but because it leads to spiritual freedom. A well balanced person never takes offense. Within bodhichitta, or the wish to become enlightened so that you may help others to realize enlightenment, you can recognize the enemy an opportunity to practice restraint and tolerance. You can also practice these for the sake of others. Compassion is based on realizing the equality between yourself and others.

I do not know who to credit these beautiful images to. If they are yours and you do not want them used, I will remove them immediately.

Friday, September 09, 2011

How the Grass and Trees Become Enlightened - Koan #46

During the Kamakura period, Shinkan studied Tendai six years and then studied Zen seven years; then he went to China and contemplated Zen for thirteen years more.

When he returned to Japan many desired to interview him and asked onscure questions. But when Shinkan received visitors, which was infrequently, he seldom answered their questions.

One day a fifty-year-old student of enlightenment said to Shinkan: "I have studied the Tendai school of thought since I was a little boy, but one thing in it I cannot understand. Tendai claims that even the grass and trees will become enlightened. To me this eems very strange."

"Of what use is it to discuss how grass and trees become enlightened?" asked Shinkan. "The question is how you yourself can become so. Did you ever consider that?"

"I never thought of it in that way," marveled the old man.

"Then go home and think it over," finished Shinkan.