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This blog is created by a Buddhist living in Singapore. He embraces the Mahayana spirit of Bodhicitta, deeply respecting all Buddhist Traditions as expressions of Kindness guiding us on the path towards human perfection ~ Buddhahood.

He likes to post stuff that he had read or think is good to share here, sometimes he adds a little comments here and there... just sometimes..

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“Sariputra, if there are people who have already made the vow, who now make the vow, or who are about to make the vow, ‘I desire to be born in Amitabha’s country,’ these people, whether born in the past, now being born, or to be born in the future, all will irreversibly attain to anuttarasamyaksambodhi. Therefore, Sariputra, all good men and good women, if they are among those who have faith, should make the vow, ‘I will be born in that country.’”

~ Amitabha Sutra

When I obtain the Buddhahood, any being of the boundless and inconceivable Buddha-worlds of the ten quarters whose body if be touched by the rays of my splendour should not make his body and mind gentle and peaceful, in such a state that he is far more sublime than the gods and men, then may I not attain the enlightenment.

~ Amitabha Buddha's Thirty-Third Vow

Friday, June 29, 2007

Golden Light Sutra recitation for World Peace

Extracted from 55th issue of monthly e-letter from Lamayeshe.com

Golden Light Sutra recitation for World Peace (click to download the sutra)

(Picture source: flickr.com)

Those who want world peace should read the Golden Light Sutra (Ser-ö dam-päi do wang-gyi gyäl-po) . This is a very important practice to stop violence and wars in the world. The Golden Light Sutra is one of the most beneficial ways to bring peace. This is something that anybody can do no matter how busy they are. Even if you can read only one page or just a few lines a day, if you do so continually you eventually finish reading the entire Golden Light Sutra.

The holy Golden Light Sutra is the king of the sutras. It is extremely powerful, fulfills all your wishes, and brings peace and all happiness up to enlightenment to all sentient beings as well. It is also extremely powerful in promoting world peace and protecting you, your country and the world. It also has great power to heal a country's people.

For those who desire peace for themselves and others, this is the spiritual, or Dharma, way to bring about peace in a way that does not require you to harm, criticize or even to demonstrate against others. Just reading it can still bring peace. Also, you don't have to be Buddhist for reading this Sutra to bring peace. Even non-Buddhists who desire peace can read it to good effect.

The Golden Light Sutra also protects individuals and countries from so-called natural disasters--disturbances of the wind, fire, earth and water elements--such as earthquakes, floods, cyclones, fires, tornadoes and so forth. Actually, such events are not natural because they derive from the appropriate causes and conditions--people's past inner negative thoughts and actions meeting certain external conditions.

Thus the benefits of reading this Sutra are immeasurable. It is said that you create more merit by reciting a few lines of the Golden Light Sutra than by offering infinite buddhas precious jewels equal in number to the atoms of sand in the Pacific Ocean.

Reciting this Sutra directs your life toward enlightenment--it's an unbelievable purification, it creates enormous merit, everything gets taken care of, your life becomes very easy, you receive whatever you wish for--and you also liberate numberless sentient beings from oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment.

So here, with my two palms pressed together, I request you to please recite the Golden Light Sutra for world peace as much as you can.

(Picture source: flickr.com. Click to enlarge)

Why Preliminary Practices Are Important

1) Because you have received a perfect human rebirth

You have received an extremely rare, precious human body just this once. Not only that--you have received a perfect human rebirth, which is rarer still. This perfect human rebirth gives you the incredible opportunity to experience happiness in your present and future lives--such as rebirth in a pure land where you can become enlightened very quickly--or to again find a perfect human rebirth, meet a perfectly qualified guru, receive Mahayana teachings, train your mind on the path, and achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.

By doing these practices you create the merit to enjoy a long life, find happiness, get whatever you need now and in future lives, eradicate all mistaken states of mind, gain all realizations, and attain the ultimate happiness of liberation from samsara and full enlightenment. You also bring happiness into this and the future lives of numberless other sentient beings, causing them, too, to gain the ultimate happiness of liberation from samsara and full enlightenment.

All this comes about because you now have this perfect human rebirth, which is more precious than all the wealth in the world, even a wish-fulfilling jewel. The wealth of the god realm is nothing compared to the value of this precious human body. And you can create the cause of all these incredible results every second of your life; every moment you don't practice Dharma is irrevocably lost along with the profound benefits you would otherwise have gained. This is like losing limitless skies of billions of dollars, diamonds and even wish-fulfilling jewels. Yet even were all this inconceivably vast wealth to be lost, it would be nothing compared to the loss of wasting this most precious human body. Wasting even one second is a great loss.

2) Because worldly attainments alone do not bring suffering to a complete end

We have achieved all worldly qualities and psychic powers numberless times in previous lives but are still not free from the suffering of samsara because worldly attainments do not eradicate the cause of suffering and we have not gained the realizations of the lam-rim, the graduated path to enlightenment. To escape from suffering we have to actualize the four noble truths and develop renunciation of true suffering by recognizing what suffering actually is. Then constantly, day and night, we will seek liberation from samsara, realizing that its perfections are, in fact, in the nature of suffering, finding not even a second's attraction to ordinary, worldly happiness.

Only the five paths to liberation--the paths of accumulation, preparation, seeing, meditation and no more learning--can bring all the defilements to an end, destroy all distracted thoughts and obstacles and their seeds, and make it impossible to ever be reborn again or experience suffering, sickness, relationship problems and death. Until we realize the four noble truths and complete these five paths, we will have to suffer in the beginningless samsara without end.

3) Because the purpose of life is to benefit others

The greatest way in which we can benefit sentient beings is to free them from suffering and lead them to enlightenment. In order to do that we first need to achieve enlightenment ourselves. That means actualizing the Mahayana path, and that means practicing the lam-rim. Thus the purpose of practicing the lam-rim is as vast as the limitless sky and we should dedicate our lives to actualizing the stages of the path to enlightenment. Ultimately this is the best way of benefiting sentient beings--liberating them from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bringing them to the peerless happiness of full enlightenment.

4) Because these practices benefit the practitioner

The purpose of the preliminary practices and meditations on the lam-rim and the reason for doing so many of them is for you to fulfill your own purpose--eradicate all your own defilements and mistaken minds and gain all the realizations of the path--and be able to work perfectly for the benefit of numberless sentient beings so that they, too, can actualize the path and achieve enlightenment. In other words, to fulfill your own purpose and that of others you need to purify all your obstacles, negative karma and defilements and create all the necessary conditions, that is, complete the accumulation of merit. You also need to receive blessings from your guru and for that you need to practice guru yoga. So that's why all these practices are given--for you to purify your mind and accumulate merit.

If you do the practices as advised will not waste your life and, little by little, over time, doing some every day, they will gradually all get done. Practicing like this every day, you will collect skies of merit and purify many eons of negative karma, especially if you do your practices with bodhicitta.

5) Because life is short

Life is very short. This most precious human rebirth is very short, much shorter than a thousand years or even hundreds of years; and it's constantly getting shorter. Furthermore, death can arrive at any time--any day, any hour, any minute, any second. Therefore you must do your best to engage in beneficial actions all the time, in other words, practice Dharma: meditate on the path that leads to bodhicitta and then live with bodhicitta, the cause of enlightenment; learn about and meditate on emptiness in order to develop the wisdom that directly eradicates all your defilements; and while living your daily life in all these meditations, you need to abide in correct guru devotion, a proper relationship with your virtuous friend. This is the essence of Dharma practice.

6) Because it's hard to meet the right teacher

It is difficult to meet the right lama. Even if you do meet a qualified lama, he may not speak English. Then you have to find a reliable translator and that can be quite difficult too.

Sometimes a lama with many students doesn't get to meet many of them very often to discuss the practices being done, so that's why these are given all at once. In this way you'll know what to focus on and will have your practices laid out for some years to come. Thus you'll be able to make your life most meaningful and create the cause of all happiness, from now up to enlightenment.

Rinpoche's advice scribed by Ven. Holly Ansett, 2007, and edited by Nicholas Ribush.




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Monday, June 25, 2007

The Buddha as a plowman - Kasi Bharadvaja Sutta

(Picture source: flickr.com)

Kasi Bharadvaja Sutta
To the Plowing Bharadvaja
(SN 7.11)
Translated from the Pali by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu
(Source: www.accesstoinsight.org)

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was living among the Magadhans at Dakkhinagiri in the brahman village of Ekanala. Now at that time approximately 500 of the brahman Kasi Bharadvaja's plows were yoked at the sowing time. Then, in the early morning, putting on his lower robe and taking his bowl & robes, the Blessed One went to where Kasi Bharadvaja was working. Now at that time Kasi Bharadvaja's food-distribution was underway. so the Blessed One went to Kasi Bharadvaja's food-distribution and, on arrival, stood to one side. Kasi Bharadvaja saw the Blessed One standing for alms, and on seeing him, said to him, "I, contemplative, plow & sow. Having plowed & sown, I eat. You, too, contemplative, should plow & sow. Having plowed & sown, you (will) eat."

"I, too, brahman, plow & sow. Having plowed & sown, I eat."

"But, contemplative, I don't see the Master Gotama's yoke or plow, plowshare, goad, or oxen, and yet the Master Gotama says this: 'I, too, brahman, plow & sow. Having plowed & sown, I eat.'"

Then the Kasi Bharadvaja addressed the Blessed One with a verse:

You claim to be a plowman,
but I don't see your plowing.
Being asked, tell us about your plowing
so that we may know your plowing.

[The Buddha:]

Conviction is my seed,
austerity my rain,
discernment my yoke & plow,
conscience my pole,
mind my yoke-tie,
mindfulness my plowshare & goad.
Guarded in body,
guarded in speech,
restrained in terms of belly & food,
I make truth a weeding-hook,
and composure my unyoking.
Persistence, my beast of burden,
bearing me toward rest from the yoke,
takes me, without turning back,
to where, having gone,
one doesn't grieve.
That's how my plowing is plowed.
It has as its fruit the deathless.
Having plowed this plowing one is unyoked
from all suffering & stress.

Then Kasi Bharadvaja, having heaped up milk-rice in a large bronze serving bowl, offered it to the Blessed One, [saying,] "May Master Gotama eat [this] milk-rice. The master is a plowman, for the Master Gotama plows the plowing that has as its fruit the deathless."

What's been chanted over with verses
shouldn't be eaten by me.
That's not the nature, brahman,
of one who's seen rightly.
What's been chanted over with verses
Awakened Ones reject.
That being their nature, brahman,
this is their way of life.
Serve with other food & drink
fully-perfected great seer,
his fermentations ended,
his anxiety stilled,
for that is the field
for one looking for merit.

(Picture source: flickr.com)

"Then to whom, Master Gotama, should I give this milk-rice?"

"Brahman, I don't see that person in this world — with its devas, Maras, & Brahmas, in this generation with its royalty & common people — by whom this milk-rice, having been eaten, would be rightly digested, aside from a Tathagata or a Tathagata's disciple. In that case, brahman, throw the milk-rice away in a place without vegetation, or dump it in water with no living beings."

So Kasi Bharadvaja dumped the milk-rice in water with no living beings. And the milk-rice, when dropped in the water, hissed & sizzled, seethed & steamed. Just as an iron ball heated all day, when tossed in the water, hisses & sizzles, seethes & steams, in the same way the milk-rice, when dropped in the water, hissed & sizzled, seethed & steamed.

Then Kasi Bharadvaja — in awe, his hair standing on end — went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, throwing himself down with his head at the Blessed One's feet, said to him, "Magnificent, Master Gotama! Magnificent! Just as if he were to place upright what was overturned, to reveal what was hidden, to show the way to one who was lost, or to carry a lamp into the dark so that those with eyes could see forms, in the same way has Master Gotama — through many lines of reasoning — made the Dhamma clear. I go to Master Gotama for refuge, to the Dhamma, and to the Community of monks. May Master Gotama remember me as a lay follower who has gone to him for refuge, from this day forward, for life. Let me obtain the going forth in Master Gotama's presence, let me obtain admission."

Then the brahman Kasi Bharadvaja obtained the going forth in the Blessed One's presence, he obtained admission. And not long after his admission — dwelling alone, secluded, heedful, ardent, & resolute — he in no long time reached & remained in the supreme goal of the celibate life, for which clansmen rightly go forth from home into homelessness, knowing & realizing it for himself in the here & now. He knew: "Birth is ended, the celibate life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for the sake of this world." And so Ven. Bharadvaja became another one of the arahants.





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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Meditation holds hope for Alzheimer's in tiny, early study

Meditation holds hope for Alzheimer's in tiny, early study
By Carla McClain
Arizona Daily Star

(Picture Source: flickr.com)

For the first time, there is evidence that daily meditation appears to improve memory loss and may strengthen parts of the brain affected by Alzheimer's disease.

That has to be welcome news to the millions of Americans facing the threat of this brain-destroying disease — expected to strike in epidemic numbers among aging baby boomers in the coming decades.

However, experts warn that the study showing that meditation improved memory function and increased blood flow to vital areas of the brain lacked scientific controls and was too small to actually prove meditation can delay or prevent the onset of Alzheimer's.

Even so, the preliminary findings are provocative — suggesting that a simple, inexpensive mind-body exercise with known health benefits may fortify our brains against mental decline as we age.

The results were presented this month at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on the Prevention of Dementia in Washington, D.C. The study was funded by a Tucson-based foundation.

Practiced for centuries in ancient cultures — and now studied for its effects on human health — meditation, in its various forms, indeed has proved good for the body and the brain.

Studies show it can reduce stress and pain, ease depression, lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, increase attention, and promote stability in handling crises.

This is the first study to indicate positive effects on memory.

"What this research is showing is that it is possible to do something to build cognitive reserve — strengthen the brain, increase its capacity," said Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa, a Tucson doctor who practices integrative and mainstream medicine, focusing on preventing physical and mental decline in old age.

"The question now is whether building that reserve through meditation can slow down the Alzheimer's process, delay it for several years, perhaps even eliminate it. We think this leads in that direction. Further research will answer the question."

Singh Khalsa's Tucson-based foundation — the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation — funded the pilot study, conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, of 20 people aged 52 to 70.

The patients were referred to the study by neurologists, due to complaints of memory loss or a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, a condition that can signal oncoming full-fledged Alzheimer's.

After training in a form of meditation known as Kirtan Kriya — described as the most widely practiced meditation in the Kundalini Yoga tradition — patients meditated for 12 minutes each day for eight weeks.

To measure their responses, they were given memory and neurologic tests before, during and after the study period. They also underwent brain-imaging scans — using Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography to measure blood flow — at the same intervals.

In reporting early results on six of the 20 patients, the study's chief researcher, University of Pennsylvania radiologist and psychiatrist Dr. Andrew Newberg, described "statistically significant" improvement in memory-test results for all six patients at the end of the study.

But the most impressive result, Newberg said, was a "dramatic" increase in blood flow to a region of the brain linked to learning and memory. Known as the posterior cingulate gyrus, it is the first area of the brain to decline in Alzheimer's patients.

"For the first time, we are seeing scientific evidence that meditation enables the brain to actually strengthen itself, and battle the processes working to weaken it," said Newberg, who directs Penn's Center for Spirituality and the Mind.

Though these are encouraging findings, the conclusions drawn by both Newberg and Singh Khalsa — that daily meditation should be recommended to delay or prevent cognitive decline — have triggered dissent from other researchers.

"This study is not showing us anything yet. Right now, there is just not enough evidence to recommend meditation for memory problems," said Alfred Kaszniak, head of psychology at the University of Arizona, who conducts research in both memory disorders and meditation, and treats memory-impaired and Alzheimer's patients.

Specifically, the study lacks a critical element of scientifically valid tests: comparison to a control group of patients who did not practice the meditation.

"Without that, you can't know if what is happening with these patients is anything more than just getting comfortable with their environment during the testing," Kaszniak said.

And even if the brain blood-flow results are valid — caused by the meditation — "we don't know if that is affecting memory or if it's just a temporary increase in metabolic activity in the brain," he said.

Also, no medical recommendations can be justified until the study results are reviewed by peer scientists and published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, he said.

Nevertheless, given what is now known about the beneficial effects of meditation, "the possibility that some particular meditation practice might improve memory functioning — even in those at risk for Alzheimer's disease — is certainly not far-fetched," said Kaszniak, who meditates daily but is not yet ready to prescribe it for memory-impaired patients.

Surprising to other longtime meditators in Tucson, the results of the meditation/memory study were indeed welcome, if valid, they said.

"That would absolutely be a great benefit, but this is the first time I've heard anything about meditation and Alzheimer's," said Terry Magee, who teaches at the Tucson Community Meditation Center.

Magee has practiced daily meditation for 12 years, and says she has used it to reduce stress, and ease the pain caused by her rheumatoid arthritis.

"It changes your relationship to stress, to what's going on around you. There is peace and clarity that develops, and I have a lot more energy than I used to," she said.

If nothing else, meditation's proven ability to ease chronic stress, an Alzheimer's risk factor, may indirectly protect against the disease's ravages.



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Friday, June 22, 2007

Disenchantment

(Picture source: flickr.com)

by Ajaan Suwat Suvaco
Translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
(Source: www.accesstoinsight.org)

We'll now start meditating, just as we've been doing every day. We have to look at this as an important opportunity. Even though our practice hasn't yet reached the Dhamma to our satisfaction, at the very least it's a beginning, an important beginning, in gathering the strength of the mind so that our mindfulness, concentration, and discernment will become healthy and mature. We should try to gather these qualities together so that they can reinforce one another in washing away the stains, the defilements, in our minds — for when defilements arise, they don't lead to peace, purity, or respite for the mind. Just the opposite: they lead to suffering, unrest, and disturbance. They block any discernment that would know or see the Dhamma. There's no defilement that encourages us to practice the Dhamma, to know or see the Dhamma. They simply get in the way of our practice.

So whatever mental state gets in the way of our practice we should regard as a defilement — for defilements don't come floating along on their own. They have to depend on the mind. Any mental state that's sleepy or lazy, any mental state that's restless, angry, or irritable: these are all defilements. They're mental states under the influence of defilement, overcome by defilement.

If any of these mental states arise within us, we should be aware of them. When the mind is sleepy, we should get it to keep buddho in mind so that it will wake up and shake off its sleepiness. When the mind is restless and irritable, we should use our discernment to reflect on things to see that these states of mind serve no purpose. Then we should quickly turn back to our concentration practice, planting the mind firmly in our meditation theme, not letting the mind get restless and distracted again.

We focus the mind on being aware of its meditation word, buddho — what's aware, what's awake. We keep it in mind as if it were a post planted firmly in the ground. Don't let the mind wander from the foundation post on which you've focused. But whatever your focus, don't let your focus be tense. You have to keep the mind in a good mood while it's focused. Do this with an attitude of mindfulness and discernment, not one of delusion, wanting to know this or to see that or to force things to fall in line with your thoughts. If that's the way you meditate, your mood will grow tense and you won't be able to meditate for long. In no time at all you'll start getting irritable.

So if you want to meditate for a long time, you have to be neutral, with equanimity as your foundation. If you want knowledge, focus firmly on what you're already aware of. Keep your mind firmly in place. Find an approach that will help you stay focused without slipping away. For example, make an effort to keep your mind firmly intent and apply your powers of observation and evaluation to the basis of your buddho. All of these things have to be brought together at the same spot, along with whatever thinking you need to do so that mindfulness won't lapse, letting unskillful outside issues come barging in, or leaving an opening for internal preoccupations to arise in the heart, or letting yourself get disturbed by thoughts of the past — things you knew or saw or said or did earlier today, or many days, many months, many years ago. You have to focus exclusively on the present.

If you've taken buddho as your meditation theme, keep coming back to it over and over again. Buddho stands for awareness. If you can maintain awareness without lapse, this will make an important difference. If you've taken the breath as your theme, you have to be aware each time the breath comes in and out. You can't let yourself wander off. You have to take nothing but the breath as the focal point for mindfulness. The same principles hold in either case. You do the same things, the only difference is the theme of your awareness.

Why does the Buddha teach us to focus on the breath? Because we don't have to look for it, don't have to guess about it, don't have to think it into being. It's a present phenomenon. There's no such thing as a past breath or a future breath. There's simply the breath coming in and out in the present. That's why it's appropriate for exercising our mindfulness, for gathering our mindfulness and awareness in a single place, for firmly establishing concentration.

So you can focus on either theme — whichever one you've already meditated on and found that mindfulness can quickly get established without lapsing and can quickly produce a sense of stillness and peace. Set that theme up as your foundation. When you're starting out, focus on keeping that theme in mind.

Once the mind has had enough stillness, if you simply want it to become more still, the mind will get into a state where it isn't doing any work because it's not distracted in any way. If this happens, you have to start contemplating. In the foundations of mindfulness we're taught to contemplate the various aspects of the body in and of themselves. We don't have to contemplate anything else. If you want to contemplate from the angle of inconstancy, it's here in this body. If you want to contemplate from the angle of stress, it's here in this body. You can contemplate it from any angle at all. If you want to contemplate from the angle of eliminating passion and craving, you can look at things that are dirty and disgusting — and you find that they fill the body. This is something requiring you to use your own intelligence. Whatever angle you use, you have to look into things so that they get more subtle and refined. Contemplate them again and again until you see things clearly in a way that gives rise to nibbida, or disenchantment, so that you aren't deluded into latching onto things and giving them meanings the way you used to.

Turn over a new mind, turning your views into new views. You no longer want your old mistaken views. Turning from your old views, give rise to right views. Turning from your old ways of thinking, give rise to right resolves — to see the body as repulsive and unattractive. This is nekkhamma-sankappa, the resolve for renunciation, the resolve to escape from sensual passion. We don't go thinking in other directions or roaming off in other directions. We try to go in the direction of escaping from the view that the body is beautiful. What the eye sees of the body is just the outer skin. It's never seen the filthy things inside. Even though it may have seen them from time to time, as when someone dies in an accident or when a patient is opened for surgery, there's something in the mind that keeps us from taking it to heart and giving rise to discernment. There's something that keeps us from contemplating things down to a level more subtle than what the eye sees. We see these things and then pass right over them. We don't get to a level profound enough to give rise to disenchantment.

So contemplate the body. If the mind has developed a strong enough foundation, it shouldn't stay stuck just at the level of stillness. But if you haven't yet reached that level of stillness, you can't skip over it. You first have to make the mind still, because a firm foundation of stillness is absolutely essential. If you try to contemplate before the mind has grown still, you'll give rise to knowledge that lasts only as long as you're in meditation. When you leave meditation and the mind is no longer firm, your new understandings will disappear. Your old understandings will come back, just as if you had never meditated. Whatever way you've been deluded in the past, that's how you'll be deluded again. Whatever views you've had before won't change into anything else. Whatever ways you've thought, you'll end up deluded just as before as long as your new ways of thinking aren't based on a foundation of stillness.

This is why stillness is so essential. We have to get the mind to gain strength from stillness and then let it contemplate the body in and of itself in terms of its 32 parts. You can choose any one of the parts, focusing on it until it's clear. Or you can focus on the parts in sets of five. When you reach the liquid parts, you can focus on them in sets of six, for there are 12 of them in all. You can contemplate them back and forth — if your mindfulness hasn't yet been exercised to the point were it's firm, contemplate these things back and forth just as a preceptor teaches a new ordinand: kesa, loma, nakha, danta, taco (hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin), and the turning them around to taco, danta, nakha, loma, kesa. Then you can go onto the next set of five — mansam, nharu, atthi, atthimiñjam, vakkam (muscle, tendons, bones, bone marrow, spleen). This is called contemplating them in sets of five.

(Picture source: flickr.com)

This is how we start out exercising mindfulness. If, while you're practicing mindfulness in this way, a visual image of any of these five parts appears, catch hold of it and contemplate it so that it grows deeper and more refined. Contemplate it until you can divide the body into its parts, seeing that each part is just like this. Get so that you know the body inside and out, realizing that other living beings are just like this, too. If you're looking to see what's unclean, you'll find it here. If you're looking to see what's not-self, you'll find it here. Turn these things over in your mind and question yourself as to whether they're constant. What kind of pleasure is there in these things? Is it worthwhile or not? Focus on these issues often, look at them often until you're adept, and the mind will finally be willing to accept the truth, changing from its old wrong ways of seeing things, and seeing them instead in line with the Dhamma as taught by the Buddha.

When your views change often in this way, the mind will experience a new kind of stillness and peace. It will turn away from the fevers of the fires of passion, aversion, and delusion; and turn into mindfulness, concentration, and discernment instead. Its knowledge and views will become clear. It will no longer waver. It will become brave and no longer afraid in the way it used to be — for it has come to know the truth: that nothing gets pained aside from the aggregates; nothing dies aside from the elements. The mind gets firmly planted. It can meditate with a snug sense of confidence, with no fear of pain or illness or anything at all. You can separate things out all the way down. Even if death were to come at that point, you'd be content, for even though death hasn't yet come, these things have separated out of their own accord. You've contemplated them and seen them for what they are, each and every one.

So I ask that we all have firm principles in our contemplation. Be genuine in doing it — don't just go through the motions — for all these things are genuine. If we don't meditate, defilements will inhabit our thoughts, deceiving us so that we don't see things as they genuinely are. If we depend just on our eyes, they can fool us. The eye can see only the outside of things. It sees skin, and the skin can be made up to deceive us. It sees hair of the head, and hair can be made up to deceive us. It sees hair of the body — things like eyebrows and beards, which can be dressed to deceive us. It sees fingernails and toenails, which can be made up to deceive us. It sees teeth, which can be treated to deceive us, so that we make all sorts of assumptions about them. The eye has no discernment. It lets us get deceived — but it isn't what does the deceiving. The mind is what deceives itself. Once it deceives itself, it makes all sorts of assumptions about itself and falls for itself. When it makes itself suffer in this way, there's no help for it. This is the genuine truth. Know clearly that the mind is what deceives itself. When it doesn't have a refuge, it can deceive itself all the time.

So we have to develop qualities that the mind can hold to and take refuge in, so that defilements won't be able to keep on deceiving it. Look so that you can see more deeply through things. Try to analyze things to see what's not genuine, what's dressed and disguised. Then as soon as you look at anything, you'll see what's fake and made up. You'll know: "The real thing doesn't have this color, this smell, this shape." You'll see how things are always changing. This is called having the qualities of the Dhamma as your refuge, as something to hold to as you look, hear, smell, taste, and make contact with things. You'll have the qualities that know and see things as they actually are — so they won't be able to deceive you. You won't be able to deceive yourself, for you'd be ashamed to. The heart grows disenchanted with itself, with its old ways — and why would it want to deceive itself any more? It's seen that it doesn't gain any benefit from that kind of behavior.

Instead, you'll see how it really benefits from its new views. They make the mind still. Clear. Set free with a sense of wellbeing. All its heavy old burdens fall away. It has no greed for gaining a lot of things, for there's no more indulging. It doesn't use anything to indulge itself. All it needs is the four necessities to keep life going — that's enough. It doesn't have to invest in anything. It finds its happiness and wellbeing in the stillness that comes from meditating. The things around it that it used to fall for and build up into ignorance without realizing it: when it focuses on really knowing these things, its delusions disband. Ignorance disappears. The mind gains knowledge from these things in line with what they actually are. It wises up and doesn't fall for these things as it used to, doesn't misunderstand them as it used to.

And that's the end of its problems.




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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Mirror - Advice On Presence And Awareness

By Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche
Advice On Presence And Awareness
Article source: http://www.dharmamind.net/TM1.htm

This short text by Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche was originally written in Tibetan. It was then translated into Italian by Adriano Clemente and into English by John Shane, and was published as a small pamphlet on the occasion of the first International Conference on Tibetan Medicine, held in Venice and Arcidosso, Italy, 1983. It is included here as a precise and detailed instruction on the most essential aspect of Dzogchen practice. I pay homage to my Master!

A practitioner of Dzogchen must have precise presence and awareness. Until one really and truly knows one's own mind and can govern it with awareness, even if very many explanations of reality are given, they remain nothing more than ink on paper or matters for debate among intellectuals, without the possibility of the birth of any understanding of the real meaning. In the Kun-byed rgyal-po, a tantra of Dzogchen, it is said that: 'The Mind is that which creates both Samsara and Nirvana, so one needs to know this King which creates everything!' We say we transmigrate in the impure and illusory vision of Samsara, but in reality, it's just our mind that is transmigrating. And then again, as far as pure Enlightenment is concerned, it's only our own mind, purified, that realizes it. Our mind is the basis of everything, and from our mind everything arises, Samsara and Nirvana, ordinary sentient beings and Enlightened Ones. Consider the way beings transmigrate in the impure vision of Samsara: even though the Essence of the Mind, the true nature of our mind, is totally pure right from the beginning, nevertheless, because pure mind is temporarily obscured by the impurity of ignorance, there is no self-recognition of our own State. Through this lack of self-recognition arise illusory thoughts and actions created by the passions. Thus various negative karmic causes are accumulated and since their maturation as effects is inevitable, one suffers bitterly, transmigrating in the six states of existence. Thus, not recognizing one's own State is the cause of transmigration, and through this cause one becomes the slave of illusions and distractions.

(Picture source: flickr.com)

Conditioned by the mind, one becomes strongly habituated to illusory actions. And then it's the same as far as pure Enlightenment is concerned; beyond one's own mind there is no dazzling light to come shining in from outside to wake one up. If one recognizes one's own intrinsic State as pure from the beginning and only temporarily obscured by impurities, and if one maintains the presence of this recognition without becoming distracted, then all the impurities dissolve. This is the essence of the Path. Then the inherent quality of the great original purity of the Primordial State manifests, and one recognizes it and becomes the master of it as a lived experience. This experience of the real knowledge of the authentic original condition, or the true awareness of the State, is what is called Nirvana. So Enlightenment is nothing other than one's own mind in its purified condition. For this reason Padma Sambhava said: 'the mind is the creator of Samsara and of Nirvana. Outside the mind there exists neither Samsara nor Nirvana. 'Having thus established that the basis of Samsara and Nirvana is the mind, it follows that all that seems concrete in the world, and all the seeming solidity of beings themselves, is nothing but an illusory vision of one's own mind.

Just as a person who has a 'bile' disease sees a shell as being yellow even if one can see objectively that that is not its true color, so in just the same way, as a result of the particular karmic causes of sentient beings, the various illusory visions manifest. Thus, if one were to meet a being of each of the six states of existence on the bank of the same river, they would not see that river in the same way, since they each would have different karmic causes. The beings of the hot hells would see the river as fire; those of the cold hells would see it as ice; beings of the hungry ghost realm would see the river as blood and pus; aquatic animals would see it as an environment to live in; human beings would see the river as water to drink; while the demi-gods would see it as weapons, and the gods as nectar. This shows that in reality nothing exists as concrete and objective. Therefore, understanding that the root of Samsara is truly the mind, one should set out to pull up the root. Recognizing that the mind itself is the essence of Enlightenment one attains liberation. Thus, being aware that the basis of Samsara and Nirvana is only the mind, one takes the decision to practice.

At this point, with mindfulness and determination, it is necessary to maintain a continuous present awareness without becoming distracted. If, for example, one wants to stop a river from flowing, one must block it at its source, in such a way that its flow is definitively interrupted; whatever other point you may choose to block it at, you will not obtain the same result. Similarly, if we want to cut the root of Samsara, we must cut the root of the mind that has created it; otherwise there would be no way of becoming free of Samsara. If we want all the suffering and hindrances arising from our negative actions to dissolve, we must cut the root of the mind, which produced them. If we don't do this, even if we carry out virtuous actions with our body and voice, there will be no result beyond a momentary fleeting benefit. Besides, never having cut the root of negative actions, they can once again be newly accumulated, in just the same way that if one only lops off a few leaves and branches from a tree instead of cutting its main root, far from the tree shriveling up, it will without doubt grow once again. If the mind, the King that creates everything, is not left in its natural condition, even if one practices the tantric methods of the 'Developing' and 'Perfecting' stages, and recites many mantras, one is not on the path to total liberation.

If one wants to conquer a country, one must subjugate the King or the Lord of that country; just to subjugate a part of the population or some functionary won't bring about the fulfillment of one's aim. If one does not maintain a continuous presence, and lets oneself be dominated by distractions, one will never liberate oneself from endless Samsara. On the other hand, if one doesn't allow oneself to be dominated by neglectfulness and illusions, but has self-control, knowing how to continue in the true State with present awareness, then one unites in oneself the essence of all the Teachings, the root of all the Paths.

Because all the various factors of dualistic vision, such as Samsara and Nirvana, happiness and suffering, good and bad etc., arise from the mind we can conclude that the mind is their fundamental basis. This is why non-distraction is the root of the Paths and the fundamental principle of the practice. . It was by following this supreme path of continuous presence that all the Buddhas of the past became enlightened, by following this same path the Buddhas of the future will become enlightened, and the Buddhas of the present, following this right path, are enlightened. Without following this Path, it is not possible to attain enlightenment.

(picture source: flickr.com)

Therefore, because the continuation in the presence of the true State is the essence of all the Paths, the root of all meditations, the conclusion of all spiritual practices, the juice of all esoteric methods, the heart of all ultimate teachings, it is necessary to seek to maintain a continuous presence without becoming distracted. What this means is: don't follow the past, don't anticipate the future, and don't follow illusory thoughts that arise in the present; but turning within oneself, one should observe one's own true condition and maintain the awareness of it just as it is, beyond conceptual limitations of the 'three times'. One must remain in the uncorrected condition of one's own natural state, free from the impurity of judgments between 'being and non-being', 'having and not-having', 'good and bad', and so on.

The original condition of the Great Perfection is truly beyond the limited conceptions of the 'three times'; but those who are just beginning the practice, at any rate, do not yet have this awareness and find it difficult to experience the recognition of their own State; it is therefore very important not to allow oneself to be distracted by the thoughts of the 'three times'. If, in order not to become distracted, one tries to eliminate all one's thoughts, becoming fixated on the search for a state of calm or a sensation of pleasure, it is necessary to remember that this is an error, in that the very 'fixation' one is engaged in is, in itself, nothing but another thought.

One should relax the mind, maintaining only the awakened presence of one's own State, without allowing oneself to be dominated by any thought whatsoever. When one is truly relaxed, the mind finds itself in its natural condition. If out of this natural condition thoughts arise, whether good or bad, rather than trying to judge whether one is in the calm state or in the wave of thoughts, one should just acknowledge all thoughts with the awakened presence of the State itself. When thoughts are given just this bare attention of simple acknowledgment, they relax into their own true condition, and as long as this awareness of their relaxedness lasts one should not forget to keep the mind present. If one becomes distracted and does not simply acknowledge the thoughts, then it is necessary to give more attention to making one's awareness truly present. If one finds that thoughts arise about finding oneself in a state of calm, without abandoning simple presence of mind, one should continue by observing the state of movement of the thought itself. In the same way, if no thoughts arise, one should continue with the presence of the simple acknowledgment that just gives bare attention to the state of calm. This means maintaining the presence of this natural state, without attempting to fix it within any conceptual framework or hoping for it to manifest in any particular form, color, or light, but just relaxing into it, in a condition undisturbed by the characteristics of the ramifications of thought.

(Picture source: flickr.com)

Even if those who begin to practice this find it difficult to continue in this state for more than an instant, there is no need to worry about it. Without wishing for the state to continue for a long time and without fearing the lack of it altogether, all that is necessary is to maintain pure presence of mind, without falling into the dualistic situation of there being an observing subject perceiving an observed object. If the mind, even though one maintains simple presence, does not remain in this calm state, but always tends to follow waves of thoughts about the past or future, or becomes distracted by the aggregates of the senses such as sight, hearing, etc., then one should try to understand that the wave of thought itself is as insubstantial as the wind. If one tries to catch the wind, one does not succeed; similarly if one tries to block the wave of thought, it cannot be cut off. So for this reason one should not try to block thought, much less try to renounce it as something considered negative. In reality, the calm state is the essential condition of mind, while the wave of thought is the mind's natural clarity in function; just as there is no distinction whatever between the sun and its rays, or a stream and its ripples, so there is no distinction between the mind and thought. If one considers the calm state as something positive to be attained, and the wave of thought as something negative to be abandoned, and one remains thus caught up in the duality of accepting and rejecting, there is no way of overcoming the ordinary state of mind. Therefore the essential principle is to acknowledge with bare attention, without letting oneself become distracted, whatever thought arises, be it good or bad, important or less important, and to continue to maintain presence in the state of the moving wave of thought itself. When a thought arises and one does not succeed in remaining calm with this presence, since other such thoughts may follow, it is necessary to be skilful in acknowledging it with non-distraction. 'Acknowledging' does not mean seeing it with one's eyes, or forming a concept about it. Rather it means giving bare attention, without distraction to whatever thought of the 'three times', or whatever perception of the senses may arise, and thus being fully conscious of this 'wave' while continuing in the presence of the pure awareness.

It absolutely does not mean modifying the mind in some way, such as by trying to imprison thought or to block its flow. It is difficult for this acknowledgment with bare attention, without distraction, to last for a long time for someone who is beginning this practice, as a result of strong mental habits of distraction acquired through transmigration in the course of unlimited time. If we only take into consideration this present lifetime, from the moment of our birth right up until the present we have done nothing other than live distractedly, and there has never been an opportunity to train in the presence of awareness and non-distraction. For this reason, until we become no longer capable of entering into distraction, if, through lack of attention, we find ourselves becoming dominated by neglectfulness and forgetfulness, we must try by every means to become aware of what is happening through relying on the presence of mind. There is no 'meditation' that you can find beyond this continuing in one's own true condition with the presence of the calm state, or with the moving wave of thought. Beyond recognition with bare attention and continuing in one's own State, there is nothing to seek that is either very good or very dear.

If one hopes that something will manifest from outside oneself, instead of continuing in the presence of one's own State, this is like the saying that tells about an evil spirit coming to the Eastern gate, and the ransom to buy him off being sent to the Western gate. In such a case, even if one believes one is meditating perfectly, in reality, it's just a way of tiring oneself out for nothing. So continuing in the State which one finds within oneself is really the most important thing. If one neglects that which one has within oneself and instead seeks something else, one becomes like the beggar who had a precious stone for a pillow, but not knowing it for what it was, had to go to such great pains to beg for alms for a living. Therefore, maintaining the presence of one's own State and observing the wave of thought, without judging whether this presence is more or less clear, and without thinking of the calm state and the wave of thought in terms of the acceptance of the one and the rejection of the other, absolutely not conditioned by wanting to change anything whatsoever, one continues without becoming distracted, and without forgetting to keep one’s awareness present; governing oneself in this way one gathers the essence of the practice.

(Picture source: flickr.com)

Some people are disturbed when they hear noises made by other people walking, talking and so on, and they become irritated by this, or else becoming distracted by things external to themselves, they give birth to many illusions. This is the mistaken path known as 'the dangerous passageway in which external vision appears to one as an enemy'. What this means is that, even though one knows how to continue in the knowledge of the condition of both the state of calm and the wave of thought, one has not yet succeeded in integrating this state with one's external vision. If this should be the case, while still always maintaining present awareness, if one sees something, one should not be distracted, but, without judging what one sees as pleasant, one should relax and continue in the presence. If a thought arises judging experience as pleasant and unpleasant, one should just acknowledge it with bare attention and continue in present awareness without forgetting it. If one finds oneself in an annoying circumstance, such as surrounded by a terrible row, one should just acknowledge this disagreeable circumstance and continue in present awareness, without forgetting it.

If one does not know how to integrate the presence of awareness with all one's daily actions, such as eating, walking, sleeping, sitting, and so on, then it is not possible to make the state of contemplation last beyond the limited duration of a session of sitting meditation.

If this is so, not having been able to establish true present awareness, one creates a separation between one's sessions of sitting practice and one's daily life. So it is very important to continue in present awareness without distraction, integrating it with all the actions of one's daily life. The Buddha, in the Prajñápáramitá Sutra (This text is commonly called "The Heart Sutra.") said: 'Subhuti, in what way does a Bodhisattva-Mahasattva; being aware that he has a body, practice perfect conduct? Subhuti, a Bodhisattva-Mahasattva, when walking, is fully mindful that he is walking; when he stands up is fully mindful of standing up; when sitting is fully mindful of sitting; when sleeping is fully mindful of sleeping; and if his body is well or ill, he is fully mindful of either condition!' That's just how it is!

To understand how one can integrate present awareness with all the activities of one's daily life, let's take the example of walking. There's no need to jump up immediately and walk in a distracted and agitated way, marching up and down and breaking everything one finds in front of one, as soon as the idea of walking arises. Rather, as one gets up, one can do so remembering 'now I am getting up, and while walking I do not want to become distracted'. In this way, without becoming distracted, step-by-step, one should govern oneself with the presence of awareness. In the same way, if one remains seated, one should not forget this awareness, and whether one is eating a tasty morsel, or having a drop to drink, or saying a couple of words, whatever action one undertakes, whether it is of greater or lesser importance, one should continue with present awareness of everything without becoming distracted.

(Picture source: flickr.com)

Since we are so strongly habituated to distraction it is difficult to give birth to this presence of awareness, and this is especially true for those who are just beginning to practice. But whenever there's any new kind of work to be done, the first thing one has to do is to learn it. And even if at the first few attempts one is not very practiced, with experience, little by little the work becomes easy. In the same way, in learning contemplation, at the beginning one needs commitment and a definite concern not to become distracted, following that one must maintain present awareness as much as possible, and finally, if one becomes. Distracted, one must notice it. If one perseveres in one's commitment to maintaining present awareness, it is possible to arrive at a point where one no longer ever becomes distracted.

In general, in Dzogchen, the Teaching of spontaneous self-perfection, one speaks of the self-liberation of the way of seeing, of the way of meditating, of the way of behaving, and of the fruit, but this self-liberation must arise through the presence of awareness. In particular, the self-liberation of the way of behaving absolutely cannot arise if it is not based on the presence of awareness. So, if one does not succeed in making the self-liberation of one's way of behaving precise, one cannot overcome the distinction between sessions of sitting meditation and one's daily life. When we speak of the self-liberation of one's way of behaving as the fundamental principle of all the tantra, the agama, and the upadesa of Dzogchen, this pleases the young people of today a great deal. But some of them do not know that the real basis of self-liberation is the presence of awareness, and many of them, even if they understand this a little in theory, and know how to speak of it, nevertheless, just the same have the defect of not applying it. If a sick person knows perfectly well the properties and functions of a medicine and is also expert in giving explanations about it, but doesn't ever take the medicine, he or she can never get well. In the same way, throughout limitless time we have been suffering from the serious illness of being subject to the dualistic condition, and the only remedy for this illness is real knowledge of the state of self-liberation without falling into limitations.

When one is in contemplation, in the continuation of the awareness of the true State, then it is not necessary to consider one's way of behaving as important, but, on the other hand, for someone who is beginning to practice, there is no way of entering into practice other than by alternating sessions of sitting meditation with one's daily life. This is because we have such strong attachment, based on logical thinking, on regarding the objects of our senses as being concrete, and, even more so, based on our material body made of flesh and blood. When we meditate on the 'absence of self-nature', examining mentally our head and the limbs of our body, eliminating them one by one as 'without self', we can finally arrive at establishing that there is no 'self or 'I'. But this 'absence of self-nature' remains nothing but a piece of knowledge arrived at through intellectual analysis, and there is as yet no real knowledge of this 'absence of self-nature'. Because, while we are cozily talking about this 'absence of self-nature', if it should happen that we get a thorn in our foot, there's no doubt that we'll right away be yelping 'ow! ow! ow!' This shows that we are still subject to the dualistic condition and that the 'absence of self-nature' so loudly proclaimed with our mouth has not become a real lived state for us.

(Picture source: flickr.com)

For this reason it is indispensable to regard as extremely important the presence of awareness, which is the basis of self-liberation in one's daily conduct. Since there have been different ways of regarding conduct as important, there have arisen various forms of rules established according to the external conditions prevailing at the time, such as religious rules and judicial laws. There is, however, a great deal of difference between observing rules through compulsion and observing them through awareness. Since, in general, everyone is conditioned by karma, by the passions, and by dualism, there are very few people who observe rules and laws through awareness. For this reason, even if they don't want to do so, human beings have had obligatorily to remain subject to the power of various kinds of rules and laws. We are already conditioned by karma, by the passions, and by dualism. If one then adds limitations derived from having compulsorily to follow rules and laws, our burden becomes even heavier, and without doubt we get even further from the correct 'way of seeing' and from the right 'way of behaving'. If one understands the term 'self-liberating' as meaning that one can just do whatever one wants, this is not correct; this is absolutely not what the principle of self-liberation means, and to believe such a mistaken view would show that one has not truly understood what awareness means. But then again we should not consider the principle of laws and rules as being just the same as the principle of awareness. Laws and rules are in fact established on the basis of circumstances of time and place, and work by conditioning the individual with factors outside him or herself.

Awareness, on the other hand, arises from a state of knowledge which the individual him or herself possesses. Because of this, laws and rules sometimes correspond to the inherent awareness of the individual, and sometimes do not. However, if one has awareness, it is possible to overcome the situation of being bound by compulsion to follow rules and laws. Not only is this so, but an individual who has awareness and keeps it stably present is also capable of living in peace under all the rules and laws there are in the world, without being in any way conditioned by them. Many Masters have said: 'Urge on the horse of awareness with the whip of presence!' And, in fact, if awareness is not quickened by presence it cannot function.

Let's examine an example of awareness: suppose that in front of a person in a normal condition there is a cup full of poison, and that person is aware of what it is. Adult and balanced persons, knowing the poison for what it is and aware of the consequences of taking it, do not need much clarification about it. But they have to warn those who don't know about the poison being there, by saying something like: 'In this cup there is some poison, and it's deadly if swallowed!' Thus, by creating awareness in others, the danger can be avoided. This is what we mean by awareness. But there are cases of persons who, although they know the danger of the poison, don't give any importance to it, or still have doubts as to whether it really is a dangerous poison, or who really lack all awareness, and with these people it is simply not sufficient to just say: 'This is poison'. For them one has to say: 'It is forbidden to drink this substance, on pain of punishment by the law'. And through this kind of threat the law protects the lives of these individuals. This is the principle on which laws are based, and even if it is very different from the principle of awareness, it is nevertheless indispensable as a means to save the lives of those who are unconscious and without awareness. Now we can continue the metaphor of the poison to show what we mean by presence. If the person who has a cup of poison in front of them, even though they are aware and know very well what the consequences of taking the poison would be, does not have a continuous presence of attention to the fact that the cup contains poison, it may happen that they become distracted and swallow some of it. So if awareness is not continually accompanied by presence it is difficult for there to be the right results. This is what we mean by presence. In the Mahayana, the principle to which maximum importance is given, and the essence itself of the Mahayana doctrine, is the union of void-ness and compassion. But, in truth, if one does not have awareness inseparably linked to presence, there absolutely cannot arise a really genuine compassion. As long as one does not have the real experience of being moved by compassion for others, it is useless to pretend that one is so very full of compassion. (picture source: flickr.com) There is a Tibetan proverb about this, which says: 'Even if you've got eyes to see other people, you need a mirror to see yourself!' As this proverb implies, if one really wants a genuine compassion for others to arise in oneself, it is necessary to observe one's own defects, be aware of them, and mentally put yourself in other people's places to really discover what those persons' actual conditions might be. The only way to succeed in this is to have the presence of awareness. Otherwise, even if one pretends to have great compassion, a situation will sooner or later arise which shows that compassion has never really been born in us at all. Until a pure compassion does arise, there is no way to overcome one's limits and barriers. And it happens that many practitioners, as they progress in the practice, just end up thinking of themselves as being a 'divinity' and thinking of everyone else as being 'evil spirits'. Thus they are doing nothing other than increasing their own limits, developing attachment towards themselves, and hatred towards others. Or, even if they talk a great deal about Mahamudra and Dzogchen, all they are really doing is becoming more expert and refined in the ways of behaving of the eight worldly dharmas. This is a sure sign that a true compassion has not arisen in us, and the root of the matter is that there has never really arisen the presence of awareness. So, without chattering about it, or getting caught up in trying to hide behind an elegant facade, one should try really and truly to cause the presence of awareness actually to arise in oneself, and then carry it into practice. This is the most important point of the practice of Dzogchen.

This paper is dedicated by the practitioner of Dzogchen, Namkhai Norbu, to his disciples of the Dzogchen Community. Into the lion's mouth!


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Sunday, June 10, 2007

How to Cook Your Life" with Raw & Refined Mindfulness


Cook or Chef?
Originally uploaded by Piulet
by Shen Shi'an, The Buddhist Channel, May 15, 2007

Dharma-Inspired Movie Review: www.german-ilms.de

Singapore -- "How to Cook Your Life" is inspired by Zen Master Dogen's celebrated "Instructions to the Cook" (Tenzokyojun), which uses the preparation of food as a metaphor for the cultivation of our spirituality. Yes, there can be more to this "mundane" task often taken for granted.

As the filmmaker Doris Dorrie remarked, "How a person goes about dealing with the ingredients for his meals says a lot about him." If we learn to connect to the task at hand, no matter how routine or seemingly insignificant it might be, we learn to connect with the reality of here and now. Master Dogen (1238 AD) had founded the Japanese Soto-Zen school.

According to the film's website, he "wrote a cookbook in which he taught that it is possible to discover Buddha in even the simplest of kitchen duties, such as washing rice or kneading dough, and so reflect on one’s own actions and behaviour in the world."

Indeed. If we cannot discover Buddha-nature where we are, where can we?

The upbeat film revolves around Zen Master Edward Espe Brown, who explains how cooking and living revolve around each other. Enough about "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and such for now - this is "Zen and the Art of Kitchen and Dietary Maintenance". This documentary is definitely no preachy material. Master Brown presents himself in a disarmingly human way, with faults and all. He admits to impatience for instance - we even see him struggling to open a food package. And he also sheds tears when he recalls how the sight of battered teapots reminded him that he too can serve despite his imperfections. Beyond his role as a teacher, we also see a fellow Dharma practitioner in him.

In his words, "My teacher Suzuki Roshi said, 'When you are cooking, you are not just cooking. You are not just working on food. You are also working on yourself. You are working on other people.'" Indeed, when you are working in a Zen kitchen, cooking for the community while interacting with kitchen folks, cooking can be a spiritual challenge.

As an interviewee says, "The hardest part about cooking is working with other people." Indeed. As Venerable Seung Sahn once taught, the easiest way to wash potatoes is in tub of water, letting them rub the dirt off each other. Washing potatoes, we might be cleansing our minds instead. Similarly, we might be cooking food, but the food might be "cooking us" too. Harmony is best learnt and appreciated by practising "together action" of living, cooking and meditating together. This is the value of living as a spiritual community - even if only during an occasional retreat.

Anything wholesome we are doing can be a subject for training mindfulness. Ingredients are carefully protected, as if they were one's own eyes. Even kneading dough is part of the process of developing awareness and attention. Food is used as a vehicle to cultivate the three minds - "big mind, joyful mind, and kind mind". "When you wash the rice, wash the rice, cut the carrots, stir the soup... a lot of the time, we are going through the motions, not seeing with the eyes, feeling with our hands, we're thinking all sorts of things... See with your eyes, smell with your nose, taste with your tongue.

Nothing in the universe is hidden." In this vein of thought, studying cooking is also studying yourself mindfully. As Master Dogen taught, "Watching closely with sincere diligence, you should not attend to some things and neglect or be slack with others for even one moment. Do not give away a single drop from within the ocean of virtues; you must not fail to add a single speck on top of the mountain of good deeds."

Much is explored on other aspects of food too - for instance, the culture of mechanised food that tastes artificial, that loses the vitality of life. Our whole sense of taste is skewed when we keep comparing "real" food with commercial food. Everything must have some virtue by itself… There's nothing to compare with yourself. Sincerity is with blemishes. As Suzuki Roshi taught, "So you have your own value. And that value is not comparative value or exchange value. It is that value – something more than that." This value is Buddha-nature - our ability to become invaluable Buddhas!

As a practice to treasure food, the Zen centre even sorts leftovers for the homeless who sleep in a church and on the streets. Now that is great unconditional compassion and equanimity. Don't waste even a grain of rice – it is as if your eye! "Backdoor catering service" or freeganism is also touched upon as a "radical" means to minimise waste - the salvaging of abandoned or neglected food to sustain oneself. The film also subtly hints that we can all switch to a kinder diet - that involves the minimal sacrifice of sentient beings. The food cooked in the film is vegetarian, though there was a scene where eggs were used. However, there is also a scene which asks if we know eggs come from happy chickens. If we are unsure, why risk the happiness of chickens by demanding their eggs? Most egg-bearing chickens live tortured lives and are eventually killed for their meat and other body parts. This is why many choose to be vegans.

In the film are occasional black and while footage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. In one charming teaching, he says - "If you think, when you are reading something, if you think, 'Bird is there, blue jay is over my roof. Blue jay is singing, but their voice is not so good.

When you think in that way – 'That is noise!' When you are not disturbed by the blue jay, the blue jay will come right into your heart, and you will be a blue jay, and blue jay will be reading something. Bird is here, in my mind already, and I am singing with the bird.

Pee pee pee!" Master Brown elaborates that we should let things come to our hearts as there is pain when there is separation, from wanting to protect ourselves. When we distant ourselves, we ache with longing. We might even be abusive when we want things our way - thinking it is control. What we cannot control, we might think of destroying.

But "if you have a little piece of shit on your nose, everything stinks." Instead, you should wash your face and transform the negative energy to something useful. Some other Dharma lessons from the kitchen, which reflect on life beyond it... It is impossible to please all with a dish. What matters is not perfection, but making sincere efforts when preparing food. Things in the kitchen don’t always go as expected. When we are joyful, kind and big-hearted, the food we prepare will be likewise. "Nourishing" yourself spiritually doesn’t come out of a package – it comes from your heart – connecting with food and others. Is food precious? Are you precious? When you honour food that you give others and yourself, you are honouring all. Food is more than for sustenance - it is for finding peace too. You are what you eat – eat too much hamburger and you might "become" hamburger. In gardening, "ask" the plants – how can I help fulfill your purpose? Think of giving before receiving. Worthy of mention in the film is a neat little poem called "The Little Duck" by Donald C. Babcock... Enjoy!

Now we are ready to look at something pretty special.

It is a duck riding the ocean a hundred feet beyond the surf, and he cuddles in the
swells.
There is a big heaving in the Atlantic.
And he is part of it.
He can rest while the Atlantic heaves, because he rests in the Atlantic.
Probably he doesn’t know how large the ocean is.
And neither do you.
But he realises it.
And what does he do, I ask you.
He sits down in it.
He reposes in the immediate as if it were infinity – which it is.
That is religion, and the duck has it.

I like the little duck.
He doesn’t know much.
But he has religion.



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Monday, June 04, 2007

The Art of Living as Practice

(Picture source: flickr.com)

The Art of Living as Practice
by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
Article source: http://www.peterussell.com/Odds/Khyentse.php)

Everyday practice is simply to develop a complete carefree acceptance, an openness to all situations without limit.

We should realize openness as the playground of our emotions and relate to people without artificiality, manipulation or strategy.

We should experience everything totally, never withdrawing into ourselves as a marmot hides in its hole. This practice releases tremendous energy which is usually constricted by the process of maintaining fixed reference points. Referentiality is the process by which we retreat from the direct experience of everyday life.

Being present in the moment may initially trigger fear. But by welcoming the sensation of fear with complete openness, we cut through the barriers created by habitual emotional patterns.

When we engage in the practice of discovering space, we should develop the feeling of opening ourselves out completely to the entire universe. We should open ourselves with absolute simplicity and nakedness of mind. This is the powerful and ordinary practice of dropping the mask of self-protection.

We shouldn't make a division in our meditation between perception and field of perception. We shouldn't become like a cat watching a mouse. We should realize that the purpose of meditation is not to go "deeply into ourselves" or withdraw from the world. Practice should be free and non-conceptual, unconstrained by introspection and concentration.

Vast unoriginated self-luminous wisdom space is the ground of being - the beginning and the end of confusion. The presence of awareness in the primordial state has no bias toward enlightenment or non-enlightenment. This ground of being which is known as pure or original mind is the source from which all phenomena arise. It is known
as the great mother, as the womb of potentiality in which all things arise and dissolve in natural self-perfectedness and absolute spontaneity.

All aspects of phenomena are completely clear and lucid. The whole universe is open and unobstructed - everything is mutually interpenetrating.

Seeing all things as naked, clear and free from obscurations, there is nothing to attain or realize. The nature of phenomena appears naturally and is naturally present in time-transcending awareness. Everything is naturally perfect just as it is. All phenomena appear in their uniqueness as part of the continually changing pattern. These patterns are vibrant with meaning and significance at every moment; yet there is no significance to attach to such meanings beyond the moment in which
they present themselves.

This is the dance of the five elements in which matter is a symbol of energy and energy a symbol of emptiness. We are a symbol of our own enlightenment. With no effort or practice whatsoever, liberation or enlightenment is already here.

This everyday practice is just everyday life itself. Since the undeveloped state does not exist, there is no need to behave in any special way or attempt to attain anything above and beyond what you actually are. There should be no feeling of striving to reach some "amazing goal" or "advanced state."

To strive for such a state is a neurosis which only conditions us and serves to obstruct the free flow of Mind. We should also avoid thinking of ourselves as worthless persons - we are naturally free and unconditioned. We are intrinsically enlightened and lack nothing.

When engaging in meditation practice, we should feel it to be as natural as eating, breathing and defecating. It should not become a specialized or formal event, bloated with seriousness and solemnity. We should realize that meditation transcends effort, practice, aims, goals and the duality of liberation and non-liberation. Meditation is always ideal; there is no need to correct anything. Since everything that arises is
simply the play of mind as such, there is no unsatisfactory meditation and no need to judge thoughts as good or bad.

Therefore we should simply sit. Simply stay in your own place, in your own condition just as it is. Forgetting self-conscious feelings, we do not have to think "I am meditating." Our practice should be without effort, without strain, without attempts to control or force and without trying to become "peaceful."

If we find that we are disturbing ourselves in any of these ways, we stop meditating and simply rest or relax for a while. Then we resume our meditation. If we have "interesting experiences" either during or after meditation, we should avoid making anything special of them. To spend time thinking about experiences is simply a distraction and an attempt to become unnatural. These experiences are simply signs of
practice and should be regarded as transient events. We should not attempt to re-experience them because to do so only serves to distort the natural spontaneity of mind.

All phenomena are completely new and fresh, absolutely unique and entirely free from all concepts of past, present and future. They are experienced in timelessness.

The continual stream of new discovery, revelation and inspiration which arises at every moment is the manifestation of our clarity. We should learn to see everyday life as mandala - the luminous fringes of experience which radiate spontaneously from the empty nature of our being. The aspects of our mandala are the day-to-day objects of our life experience moving in the dance or play of the universe. By this symbolism the inner teacher reveals the profound and ultimate significance of being. Therefore we should be natural and spontaneous, accepting and learning from everything. This enables us to see the ironic and amusing side of events that usually irritate us.

In meditation we can see through the illusion of past, present and future - our experience becomes the continuity of nowness. The past is only an unreliable memory held in the present. The future is only a projection of our present conceptions. The present itself vanishes as soon as we try to grasp it. So why bother with attempting to establish an illusion of solid ground?

We should free ourselves from our past memories and preconceptions of meditation. Each moment of meditation is completely unique and full of potentiality. In such moments, we will be incapable of judging our meditation in terms of past experience, dry theory or hollow rhetoric.

Simply plunging directly into meditation in the moment now, with our whole being, free from hesitation, boredom or excitement, is enlightenment.

(Obtained from Siddhartha's Intent Community)



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