About me

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, April 30, 2010

The Myth of the Experienced Meditator

After thirty years of practice, one meditator finds it's gotten him nowhere. That's just fine with him.
By Barry Evans

I tell Kyodo Roshi I want to take my practice to a deeper level. "Deeper level?" He laughs again. "What do you mean, 'deeper'? Zen practice only one level. No deep, understand?"
—Lawrence Shainberg, Ambivalent Zen

I AM, UNFORTUNATELY, an experienced meditator. From the time I stumbled into an introduction to Transcendental Meditation in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in 1970, through multiple eras (including my present fifteen-year-old Soto Zen practice), I've sat and stared at many walls (and mandalas and candles, and the inside of my eyelids) reveled in sundry bells-and-whistles mental experiences, gotten bored, decided I was going crazy, become enlightened (no, really!), and now I'm ready to share everything I've learned. It won't take long. In fact I can sum it up in one word: nothing.

Not that "nothing" is to be sniffed at. For years—decades!—I thought there was something to learn, and that all those thousands of hours on the mat were cumulative, that the more I sat, the more aware and compassionate and wonderful I would become. In a world where the attainment of goals is seen as a virtue, thirty-eight years of realizing nothing didn't come easily or lightly.

By definition (mine), if I did think I knew something about meditation, that wouldn't be meditation. Sort of like God—if you can describe God to me, that ain't God. If, as I believe, meditation is simply awareness, then any past knowledge I have about it is not only useless, but slops over into my immediate experience. Knowing is antithetical to openness, and it's the adventure of not knowing that's the genius of meditation. Not for nothing (so to speak) are two of the most popular contemporary books on Buddhism called Beginner's Mind (Shunryu Suzuki) and Only Don't Know (Seung Sahn). I have this fantasy that next time I open my copies of these books, I'll find only blank pages.

So what is meditation about? I've heard many claims for the practice over the years, that it's about: gratitude; emptiness; deepened, (or if you prefer) heightened, awareness; compassion; spaciousness; the discovery/realization/dissolving of one's true self (your choice); attaining liberation; self-realization; being present in the moment; opening to the wonder of it all; finding inner peace; encountering one's Buddha nature; becoming one with everything; cutting through delusion; fill in the blank.

It seems to me, though, that meditation isn't about anything: meditation is meditation. Any attempt to define it in terms of something else simply confuses the issue, making it vulnerable to being treated like any other self-improvement system. Lord knows, these days we are offered enough ways to be better people, get closer to God, find ourselves, and enhance our circumstances. We're swamped with therapies, self-help books, and techniques—what musician and activist Bob Geldof called "the thriving economy of psychotherapists, designer religions, and spiritual boutiques"—which treat our lives as projects to be tweaked and fixed. Isn't meditation (if it's anything at all) a relief from all this? Isn't it the opposite of repairing and adjusting and striving and perpetually wanting things to be different?

For me, meditation is a haven away from the ubiquitous world of self-improvement. It's not just that there's no such thing as "bad" meditation, but there's no such thing as "good" meditation either. It is what it is. So when I hear words like "effort" and "discipline" and phrases like "deepening one's practice" and "advancing along the spiritual path" spoken in the same breath as the word "meditation," I wince. Just sitting (shikantaza)—doing and wanting nothing, breath coming and going unbidden, eyes seeing, ears hearing—in this effortless state, thoughts flurry like falling leaves.

So can a so-called experienced meditator offer anything to someone new to the practice? Probably not. If what we're really talking about is awareness, how can we help someone notice what's going on? This is what's going on: no more, no less. Unlike a subject like, say, carpentry, where we learn from the experience of those who have gone before us, meditation is defined by spontaneity, by not knowing. As the Roshi says, "practice only one level." Perhaps the best we can do is to reassure newcomers that each of us starts over with every sitting and every breath.

Trust me. I'm an experienced meditator.

Barry Evans is a member of the Arcata (California) Zen Group and also sits with Akira Kasai, in Guanajuato, Mexico. He isn't quite sure why he meditates, but he does anyway.

Article source: www.tricycle.com


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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Moment is Perfect

By Thich Nhat Hanh

No matter what we experience when we’re meditating, it only has meaning when we take it out into our daily lives. There is nothing we experience—from the simple act of eating to the complications of work and relationships—that we cannot approach with the mindfulness and compassion we develop in our meditation.

Take the time to eat an orange in mindfulness. If you eat an orange in forgetfulness, caught in your anxiety and sorrow, the orange is not really there. But if you bring your mind and body together to produce true presence, you can see that the orange is a miracle. Peel the orange. Smell the fruit. See the orange blossoms in the orange, and the rain and the sun that have gone through the orange blossoms. The orange tree that has taken several months to bring this wonder to you. Put a section in your mouth, close your mouth mindfully, and with mindfulness feel the juice coming out of the orange. Taste the sweetness. Do you have the time to do so? If you think you don’t have time to eat an orange like this, what are you using that time for? Are you using your time to worry or using your time to live?

Spiritual practice is not just sitting and meditating. Practice is looking, thinking, touching, drinking, eating, and talking. Every act, every breath, and every step can be practice and can help us to become more ourselves.

The quality of our practice depends on its energy of mindfulness and concentration. I define mindfulness as the practice of being fully present and alive, body and mind united. Mindfulness is the energy that helps us to know what is going on in the present moment. I drink water and I know that I am drinking the water. Drinking the water is what is happening.

Mindfulness brings concentration. When we drink water mindfully, we concentrate on drinking. If we are concentrated, life is deep, and we have more joy and stability. We can drive mindfully, we can cut carrots mindfully, we can shower mindfully. When we do things this way, concentration grows. When concentration grows, we gain insight into our lives.

When I join my palms to greet a child, or to greet an adult, I don’t do it simply to be polite. I do it because this is my practice. I am a living being who is bowing to a child or to a friend. Joining my palms, I make a flower. It’s beautiful in appearance and it’s beautiful on the inside. In joining my two palms, I realize the oneness of body and mind. My left hand is like my body, my right hand is like my mind. They come together, and in an instant I arrive at the state of oneness of body and mind. When mind and body come together, they produce our true presence. We become fully alive. Oneness of body and mind is the fruit of practice that you can get right away—you don’t have to wait.

The principle of the practice is simple: to bring our minds back to our bodies, to produce our true presence, and to become fully alive. Everything is happening under the light of mindfulness. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, we say, "We’re doing everything in the presence of God." That’s another way of expressing the same reality. When Jews have a shabbos dinner, they lay the table, pour the milk, and cook the food aware of the presence of the divine.

In Buddhism, God is mindfulness and concentration. Every single thing that takes place is exposed to the light of mindfulness and concentration, and that energy of mindfulness and concentration is the essence of the Buddha. Mindfulness and concentration always bring insight, and insight is the factor that liberates us from suffering, because we are able to see the true nature of reality.

All rituals are nothing if they are empty of the energy of mindfulness and concentration. We could call these energies the Holy Spirit. When a priest celebrates the Eucharist, breaking the bread and pouring the wine, it’s not the gesture and the words that create the miracle of the Eucharist. It’s the priest’s capacity to be alive, to be present at that moment, that can wake up the whole congregation. The priest can break the bread in such a way that everyone becomes aware that this piece of bread contains life. That requires strong practice on the part of the priest. If he’s not alive, if he’s not present, if he doesn’t have the power of mindfulness and concentration, he won’t be able to create life in the congregation, and in the church. That is why empty rituals don’t mean anything. For all of us—priest, monk, and layperson—our practice is to generate the energy of concentration and mindfulness.

When we do something deeply and authentically, it becomes a real ritual. When we pick up a glass of water and drink it, if we’re truly concentrated in the act of drinking, it is a ritual. When we walk with all our being, investing one hundred percent of ourselves into making a step, mindfulness and concentration become a reality. That step generates the energy of mindfulness and concentration that makes life possible, deep, and real. If we make a second step like that, we maintain that concentration. Walking like that, it looks like we are performing a rite. But in fact we’re not performing; we’re just living deeply every moment of our lives.

Even a daily habit like eating breakfast, when done as a practice, can be powerful. It generates the energy of mindfulness and concentration that makes life authentic. When we prepare breakfast, it can also be a practice. We can be really alive, fully present, and very happy during breakfast-making. We can see making breakfast as mundane work or as a privilege—it just depends on our way of looking. The cold water is available. The hot water is available. The soap is available. The kettle is available. The fire is available. The food is available. Everything is there to make our happiness a possibility. If we are caught in our worries and anger, or in the past or the future, then, although we’re making breakfast, we’re not there. We’re not alive.

If you are cutting carrots, you should invest one hundred percent of yourself into the business of carrot-cutting. Nothing else. While cutting the carrot, please don’t try to think of the Buddha or anything else. Just cut the carrot in the best way possible, becoming one with the carrot, becoming one with the cutting. Live deeply that moment of carrot-cutting. It is as important as the practice of sitting meditation. It is as important as giving or hearing a dharma talk. When you cut the carrot with all of your being, that is mindfulness. If you can cultivate concentration, and if you can get the insight you need to liberate yourself from suffering, that is because you know how to cut your carrots.

You can clean the toilet in the spirit of mindfulness, investing all of yourself into the cleaning, making it into a joyful practice. Do one thing at a time. Do it deeply. There are many wonders of life that are available in the here and the now. Without mindfulness, you may be angry that you have to clean the toilet or feel resentful, and neglect and ignore the wonders around you.

Many of us don’t allow ourselves to be relaxed. Why do we always try to run and run, even while having our breakfast, while having our lunch, while walking, while sitting? There’s something pushing and pulling us all the time. We make ourselves busy in the hopes of having happiness in the future. In the sutra “Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone,” the Buddha said clearly, "Don’t get caught in the past, because the past is gone. Don’t get upset about the future, because the future is not yet here. There is only one moment for you to be alive, and that is the present moment. Go back to the present moment and live this moment deeply, and you’ll be free."

How do we liberate ourselves in order to really be in the here and the now? Buddhist meditation offers the practice of stopping. Stopping is very important, because we’ve been running all our lives, and also in our previous lives. Our ancestors, our grandfather, our grandmother were running, and now they continue to run in us. If we don’t practice, our children will carry us in them and continue to run in the future.

A practitioner has the right to suffer, but a practitioner does not have the right not to practice. People who are not practitioners allow their pain, sorrow, and anguish to overwhelm them, and to push them to say and do things they don’t want to do and say. We who consider ourselves to be practitioners have the right to suffer like everyone else. It’s OK to suffer; it’s OK to be angry. We can learn to stop and stay with our suffering, attend to it with all of our tenderness and kindness, and take good care of our suffering.

Let’s try not to run away. We run because we’re too afraid. But if we can be present with our suffering, the energy of mindfulness is strong enough to embrace and recognize that pain and that sorrow. We suffer because we lack insight into our nature and into the nature of reality. The energy of mindfulness contains the energy of concentration, and concentration always contains the capacity of seeing deeply and bringing insight.

To see deeply, we have to first learn the art of stopping. The Buddha is often portrayed as sitting on a lotus flower, very fresh, very stable. If we’re capable of sitting in the here and the now, anywhere we sit becomes a lotus flower—whether that is at the base of a tree, on the grass, or on a stone bench. When we’re really sitting, we’re free from all worries, from all regrets, from all anger. Many of us sit on the meditation cushion, but it’s like sitting on thorns because we don’t know how to enjoy the lotus flower.

You can start by just appreciating your eyes. Breathing in, you are aware of your eyes; breathing out, you smile to your eyes. When you embrace your eyes with your mindfulness, you recognize that you have eyes, still in good condition. It is a wonderful thing to still have eyes in good condition. You need only to open them to enter the paradise of colors and forms. Those who have lost our eyesight know what it feels like to live in the dark and wonder at the capacity to see things.

We can just sit on the grass and open our eyes. The beautiful sunrise, the full moon, the orange, all these things reveal themselves to us when we are truly present. The blue sky is for us. The white clouds are for us, as are the trees, the children, the grass, and the loving faces of our dear ones. Everything is available to us because we still have eyes in good condition. Most of us don’t appreciate our eyes because we are not mindful. We may think that everything in us is wrong, but that’s not true. There are millions of things in us that are right.

When we cook, when we clean, when we walk, each movement can be made with mindfulness, concentration, and insight. With each step we take, we can touch the earth and become one with it. Our fear and loneliness dissipate. There is no other way. With every breath, we can generate mindfulness, concentration, and insight. Insight is our liberation. Insight liberates us from our fear, our ignorance, our loneliness and despair. It is this insight that helps us to penetrate deeply into the nature of no-birth and no-death, and the interconnected nature of all things. This is the cream of Buddhist practice—and we can do it by means of the very simple practices of breathing in and breathing out, being mindful of each step, and looking deeply.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a renowned Vietnamese Zen master, poet, and founder of the Engaged Buddhism movement. His most recent book is Nothing to Do, Nowhere to Go.

The Moment is Perfect, Thich Nhat Hanh, Shambhala Sun, May 2008.


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The Experience of Change

Interview with H.H. the Dalai Lama

This interview was conducted by Daniel Goleman, a psychologist who writes for The New York Times and the author of Emotional Intelligence (Bantam).

Daniel Goleman: What is the Buddhist understanding of Time? How can we relate our sense of the process of time to our experience of the present moment?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: In Buddhism, the concept of linear time, of time as a kind of container, is not accepted. Time itself, I think, is something quite weak. It depends on some physical basis, some specific thing. Apart from that thing it is difficult to pinpoint—to see time. Time is understood or conceived only in relation to a phenomenon or a process.

DG: Yet the passage of time seems very concrete—the past, the present, aging. The process of time seems very real.

HH: This business of time is a difficult subject. There are several different explanations and theories about time; there is no one explanation in Buddhism. I feel there is a difference between time and the phenomena on which time is projected. Time can be spoken of only in relation to phenomena susceptible to change, which because they are susceptible to change are transitory and impermanent. "Impermanent" means there is a process. If there is no process of change, then one cannot conceive of time in the first place.

The question is whether it is possible to imagine an independent time which is not related to any particulars, any object that goes through change. In relation to such an object, we can talk about the past of that thing, its present state, and its future; but without relation to such particulars, it is very difficult to conceive of an instant of time totally independent of a particular basis.

DG: Can we connect what you are saying with our own experience? We experience time, we experience growth and aging, we experience that one thing leads to another.

HH: That's right.

DG: One thing is the cause of another thing. Now how do we explain that process of time in terms of being in the present moment? There are differences in the way each of us experiences time. Sometimes it goes very slowly, sometimes very quickly. Our sense of time seems to change with our state of consciousness. If you're fully focused-just right here, right now-then the sense of time changes. What is the relationship between the sense of time and one's own state of consciousness?

HH: Depending on a person's spiritual maturity or realization, there could be a difference in how one sees the moment. That one could have different experiences of time is demonstrated by an ordinary fact: For instance, if two people attend a party, one person might be so absorbed in the party he would feel that time went [snaps his fingers] just like thatl Whereas the other person who did not enjoy it very much might have felt it long, dragging, because he was thinking about when it would finish. So although both of them attended the same party, in terms of time they were different.

DG: Does cultivating attention play a role in this?

HH: It does play a great role. If you have more attentiveness, if you have a fuller sense of presence, then it will make a great deal of difference in how you experience your life.

But then, you find that if you analyze time very precisely, there is no present, in a real sense of the word; only past and future, no present I The sense of present that we have is a conventional notion. Even if you employ a computer or some other instrument to divide time and analyze whether there was a present or not, you would find that there isn't. "Present" is a relative term. While in experience there seems to be nothing but the present, we actually experience only the illusion of the present.

Things are all the time moving, never fixed. So we can't find the present. This fact indicates the impermanent, dynamic nature of things, that they never remain fixed or static, they are always in the process of changing from one form to another.

DG: But isn't it possible to be present in that movement with attention?

HH: Attention—yes I That's present! And present, you see, makes past and future. Without present, you can't posit future and past.

DG: You're saying that if you're totally present in the moment, the mind is attending not to a "present," but rather a future becoming a past. Is that right?

HH: Yes! My point is not to deny the existence of the present, but rather the present independent of some object that changes. If we investigate, the present is very difficult to find, but that does not mean the present does not exist. But when you talk about the concept of time, it creates confusion, because it is not based in matter. We could try to talk objectively of time as it is based in matter; anything made of matter goes through a process of change from moment to moment. Within a minute, within seconds, within one hundredth of a second, it is all the time changing. It can be spoken of only in terms of something that is subject to change. There is no independent, linear time as some kind of container.

DG: Is there a relationship between the sense of time and cultivating patience or even forgiveness? Does your sense of time have something to do with that?

HH: There is a connection. If you are able to understand the dynamic process in the changing nature of situations, events, and things, then your tolerance and patience can offset the difficulties.

DG: What I'm struck by in what you're saying is that one's perspective, one's view of things, determines how time is experienced—how one experiences change, life, and the purpose of life—whether life is empty or full. And I suppose that applies to time, too.

HH: Yes, yes, that's good. But it does also depend on external circumstances, and how the two come together.

DG: But if you have a view of lifetime after lifetime, of reincarnation and trying to help sentient beings, does that lead you to give more importance or less importance to the present moment? —I know, of course, that we've established the present moment doesn't existl [Laughter] But the English language hasn't caught up with your thinking!

HH: Of course, even if you see only one lifetime, it's the same as if you see many births, many lives. If there are many unfortunate things in your life, or if you have had a much happier life with many good opportunities, you still want one hundred years of life.

You see, the past is past, and the future is yet to come. That means the future is in your hands—the future entirely depends on the present. That realization gives you a great responsibility.

Article source: www.tricycle.com
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Sunday, April 25, 2010

This Silence is Called Great Joy

By Thich Nhat Hanh

A new teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh on the truth beyond our usual truths.

There are two kinds of truth, conventional truth and absolute truth, but they are not opposites. They are part of a continuum. There is a classic Buddhist gatha:

All formations are impermanent.
They are subject to birth and death.
But remove the notions of birth and death,
and this silence is called great joy.

This beautiful poem has only twenty-six words, but it sums up all of the Buddha’s teaching. It is one of greatest poems of humanity. If you are a composer, please put it to music and make it into a song. The last two lines should sound like thundering silence, the silencing of all speculation, of all philosophies, of all notions and ideas.

The gatha begins in the realm of conventional truth and ends in the realm of absolute truth. The first line describes reality as we usually perceive it. “All formations are impermanent.” This is something concrete that we notice as soon as we start paying attention. The five elements that make up our sense of personhood—form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, consciousness—all are flowing and changing day and night. We can feel their impermanence and so we are tempted to say that the first two lines of this gatha are true.

But the danger of this statement is that we may believe that formations are real and impermanence is an absolute truth. And we may use that kind of truth as a weapon in order to fight against those who don’t agree with our ideas. “Formations” is a notion, an idea. “Impermanence” is another notion. Neither is more true than the other. When you say, “All formations are impermanent,” you are indirectly confirming their permanence. When you confirm the existence of something, you are also implying the existence of its opposite. When you say the right exists, you have to accept the existence of the left. When you confirm that something is “high,” you’re saying something else is “low.” Impermanence becomes a notion that opposes the notion of permanence. So though perhaps it tried to escape, the first two lines of the gatha are still in the realm of conventional, relative truth.

To reach the absolute truth, the ultimate truth, you need to release the conventional truth found there. There’s a Chinese term that means halfway truths and another that means all-the-way, hitting-the-bottom truths. The first two lines are a halfway truth and the third and fourth lines try to remove what we learned in the first two.

When the notions are removed, then the perfect silence, the extinction of all notions, the destruction of all pairs of opposites, is called great joy. That is the teaching of absolute truth, of nirvana. What does nirvana mean? It is absolute happiness. It’s not a place you can go; it’s a fruit that you can have wherever you are. It’s already inside us. The wave doesn’t have to seek out the water. Water is what the wave has to realize as her own foundation of being.

If you have come from a Jewish or Christian background, you may like to compare the idea of nirvana, great bliss, with the idea of God. Because our idea of God may be only that, an idea. We have to overcome the idea in order to really touch God as a reality. Nirvana can also be merely the idea of nirvana. Buddha also can be just an idea. But it’s not the idea that we need; we need the ultimate reality.

The first two lines of the gatha dwell in the realm of opposites: birth and death; permanence and impermanence; being and nonbeing. In God, in nirvana, opposites no longer exist. If you say God exists, that’s wrong. If you say God doesn’t exist, that’s equally wrong. Because God cannot be described in terms of being and nonbeing. To be or not to be, that is not the question. The notions of being and nonbeing are obstacles that you have to remove in order for ultimate reality to manifest.

In classical Chinese, the third line of the gatha literally says, “But when both birth and death die.” What does it mean by “death dying”? It means you have to kill your notions of birth and death. As someone who practices the way of the Buddha, you have the sword of the Bodhisattva Manjushri, which is sharp enough to remove wrong perceptions and cut through all notions, including those of birth and death.

The true practitioner understands real rebirth, real continuation. There are two views concerning life after death. Quite a number of people, including scientists, believe that after we die, there’ll be nothing left. From being we become non-being. They don’t believe that there is something that continues after you die. That view is called nihilism. In this view, either there is no soul or the soul completely dies. After death, our body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness are completely gone. The opposite view, eternalism, is that after we die, we are still here and we will continue forever. Our soul is immortal. While our physical body may die, our soul continues forever, whether in paradise or in hell. The Buddha called these two views just another pair of opposites.

Before you can answer the question, “What will happen to me after I die?” you need to answer another question, “What is happening to me in the present moment?” Examining this question is the essence of meditation. If we don’t know how to look deeply to what is happening to us in the here and the now, how can we know what will happen to us when we are dead?

When we look at a candle, we say that the candle is radiating light, heat, and fragrance. The light is one kind of energy it emits, the heat is another, and the fragrance is a third kind of energy it can offer us in the here and the now. If we are truly alive, we can see that we aren’t very different from the candle. We are offering our insight, our breath, our views right now. Every moment you have a view, whether about yourself, the world, or how to be happy, and you emit that view. You produce thought and your thought carries your views. You are continued by your views and your thinking. Those are the children you give birth to every moment. And that is your true continuation.

So it is crucial to look deeply at your thoughts and your views. What are you holding on to? Whether you are an artist or a businessperson, a parent or a teacher, you have your views about how to live your life, how to help other people, how to make your country prosperous, and so on. When you are attached to these views, to the idea of right and wrong, then you may be get caught. When your thinking is caught in these views, then you create misunderstanding, anger, and violence. That is what you are becoming in this very moment.

When you are mindful of this and can look deeply, you can produce thoughts that are full of love and understanding. You can make yourself and the world around you suffer less.

You are not static. You are the life that you are becoming. Because “to be” means to be something: happy, unhappy, light or heavy, sky or earth. We have to learn to see being as becoming. The quality of your being depends on the object of your being. That is why when you hear Rene Descartes’ famous statement “I think, therefore I am,” you have to ask, “You are what?” Of course you are your own thinking—and your happiness or your sorrow depends very much on the quality of your thinking. So you are your view, you are your thinking, you are your speech, you are your action, and these things are your continuation. You are becoming now, you are being reborn now in every second. You don’t need to come to death in order to be reborn. You are reborn in every moment; you have to see your continuation in the here and the now.

I don’t care at all what happens to me when I die. That’s why I have a lot of time to care about what is happening to me in the here and the now. When I walk, I want to enjoy every step I take. I want freedom and peace and joy in every step. So joy and peace and lightness are what I produce in that moment. I have inherited it and I pass it on to other people. If someone sees me walking this way and decides to walk mindfully for him or herself, then I am reborn in him or in her right away—that’s my continuation. That’s what is happening to me in the here and the now. And if I know what is happening to me in the here and the now, I don’t need to ask the question, “What will happen to me after this body disintegrates?” There is no “before” and “after,” just as there is no birth and death. We can be free of these notions in this very moment, filled with the great joyful silence of all that is.

© Unified Buddhist Church. Used with permission of Parallax Press.

This Silence is Called Great Joy, Thich Nhat Hanh, Shambhala Sun, September 2007.

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The Unwinking Gaze - The Inside Story of The Dalai Lama's Struggle for Tibet

About The Unwinking Gaze DVD

The Unwinking Gaze Official Website

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Vajrasattva Mantra

Vajrasattva Mantra (Short Version)

Vajrasattva Mantra (Long Version)
Supposedly recited by His Holiness Karmapa but I'm unable to verify this.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Between Arhat and Bodhisattva Finding the Perfect Balance

Ajahn Amaro examines the arguments for and against the arhat and bodhisattva ideals that define and too often divide the Buddhist traditions. He suggests a way out of the polarizing debate.

A student of Buddhism asked, “Which do you think is the best path: that of the arahant or that of the bodhisattva?”
“That kind of question is asked by people who understand absolutely nothing about Buddhism!” Ajahn Sumedho replied.

Don’t be an arahant, don’t be a bodhisattva, don’t be anything at all—if you are anything at all you will suffer.” —Ajahn Chah

One of the more significant elephants in the living room of Buddhism in the West is the disparity between the stated goals of the Northern and Southern schools. In the Northern tradition, the goal is often formulated as the cultivation of the bodhisattva path over many lifetimes for the benefit of all beings, culminating in buddhahood. Its scriptures and liturgies are thickly populated with the bodhisattva principle, and for those who practice in this tradition it is normal to take bodhisattva vows. In the Southern tradition, the spiritual ideal that is extolled instead is the realization of arahantship—the realization of nibbana and the ending of rebirth, in this very life. The bodhisattva principle is hardly ever spoken of, apart from its mention in the Jataka Tales, stories of the past lives of Gotama Buddha.

The main reason for delving into this disparity is that people do make comparisons of the arahant and bodhisattva ideal and ask which path to follow. The aim here is not to argue a particular position and defend it, but rather to shed a little more light on the goals of Buddhist practice and to recount some of what the scriptures and traditions have said about this landscape over the centuries.

Views from the North,
Views from the South

Nowadays these two traditions often have occasion to meet. A wide spectrum of Buddhist teachings is available, and many people have been inspired by masters of different lineages. We read a book that encourages us to be free from greed, hatred, and delusion, to escape from the endless cycles of rebirth, and we feel, “Yes, that’s it!” Then we read about those compassionate ones whose chief concern is to stay in the world to relieve the suffering of others, and again the heart leaps—“That’s wonderful!”

So do these two paths conflict, or are they compatible? Do they lead to different goals, or maybe the same goal? Are they actually the same track known by different names?

Over time, both traditions have developed critiques of each other and then passed these on as received knowledge. When all we have to go by is the established outlook, these critiques seem to be reasonable judgments. Some of the points of view from the South argue, “The Mahayana schools are not real Buddhism; they wrote their own scriptures and have wandered from the Buddha’s true path, namely realizing nibbana and ending rebirth.” Voices from the North, on the other hand, say, “The Theravadans are the small vehicle; they only follow the Buddha’s most preliminary instructions. The Buddha gave far superior teachings, those of the Great and Supreme Vehicles, and it is those we hold in highest esteem.”

This said, both kinds of practitioners also wrestle with such doubts as, “Am I holding an obstructive view if I look down on arahats?” Or, “Am I adhering to an inferior ideal if I dismiss the bodhisattva vows?”

In addition to such personal dilemmas, the plot thickens when we look at the scriptures themselves. On examination we find some curious and significant anomalies in both the teachings of the Northern and Southern schools. When studying with a spiritual teacher, it is the most natural thing in the world to want to emulate that person and the path that he or she has followed. However, in the Pali Canon, the subject of the Buddha’s bodhisattva training never comes up. At no time does anyone even ask about it. No one enquires, “What made you choose to become a Buddha?” or “Could an ordinary person like me undertake that path too?” or “Should I aim for buddhahood or for the more accessible goal of arahantship?”

Nothing. Not a syllable. It’s like a biography of Winston Churchill that fails to mention a couple of stints he had as prime minister.

How come the issue never gets mentioned?

In the Northern tradition, there is an equally mysterious anomaly. Immediately following his enlightenment, the Buddha’s inclination was not to teach. He saw that worldly attachment was so great and the subtlety of his realization was so refined that others simply would not understand.

If compassion for other beings was his prime motivation in developing the spiritual perfections for so many lifetimes—for “four incalculable periods and 100,000 eons,” according to the scriptures—why should he feel that there was no point in even trying? Very mysterious.

One would imagine that such incongruities would lead people to investigate their own beliefs more closely, and to ponder whether the standard views of their own and other traditions were reliable. Unfortunately, it’s more often the case that such anomalous elements are ignored or dismissed, and one’s preferred version of reality re-established.

The Trouble with Tribalism

If we look into the roots of the conflict and ponder possible resolutions, we first encounter a question: What exactly is the problem?

When reading texts extolling the virtues of the arahant and the bodhisattva, both appear to be noble aspirations. How wonderful that we can develop such purity and wisdom! Clearly it is not the ideals themselves that are the root of any conflict; rather, the root of the problem is people—more specifically, the issue of tribalism. It’s the great “mine” field: through a misguided faithfulness to our origins—this is my team, my lineage—we co-opt the intellect to defend our group, often bending the facts and the philosophy for the sake of winning the argument.

Whether it’s football teams, family feuds, or Buddhist lineages, the dynamics are identical: first, we seize on some features of the opposition to criticize; then we enter the labyrinth of position-taking; finally, we miss the reality of what it was we were contesting in the first place. Even though the intent of an exchange might be very noble, the emotional tone permeating it can be deeply instinctual and aggressive, as well as territorial. We might observe the appropriate etiquette and protocols, but nevertheless be taken over by the reptile brain.

The real issue, then, is often not philosophy; it’s hurt feelings. What probably began as an amicable spiritual discussion somehow evolved into a bitter rivalry a few centuries later. Critical comments were bandied back and forth and they degenerated into derogatory insults, until the various factions were stabbing each other with verbal daggers, and each opposing group became stereotyped: Anyone who aspires to arahantship is a selfish nihilist; all those who take the bodhisattva vows are obviously heretical eternalists.

Many spiritual traditions tell the tale of the blind men and the elephant. Isn’t it revealing that we rarely think of ourselves as one of the blind? We prefer to see ourselves as watching the sorry squabbling of the sightless. It’s humbling, though, to see how easily we’re pulled into this kind of deluded certainty and position-taking based on our attachment to views and opinions. We’re so sure: “This is not an opinion, it’s a fact!”

Even if the “fact” is 100 percent provable, if we use it as a weapon it becomes, as Ajahn Chah said, “Right in fact, but wrong in dhamma.” Sometimes it is devout faithfulness, rather than negativity, that generates such dualisms. Once, when Ajahn Chah was visiting England, a woman long connected to the Thai Forest tradition came to see him. She was very concerned:

“I respect your wisdom immensely but I feel uncomfortable studying and taking refuges and precepts with you; I feel I’m being unfaithful to my teacher, Ajahn Maha-Boowa.”

Ajahn Chah replied, “I don’t see the problem. Ajahn Maha-Boowa and I are both disciples of the Buddha.”

It is possible to explore these various teachings and traditions in this spirit of nonpartisan openness and, hopefully, appreciate the landscape of the way of the Buddha with eyes that are “right in dhamma.” Through this kind of investigation, perhaps we can find ways to resolve these ancient conflicts.

The Middle Way

If the difficulties that have arisen over the centuries can be attributed to contentious position-taking, one way to resolve them should be through the practice of non-contention. The Buddha once said that his entire teaching could be summarized as, “Nothing whatsoever should be clung to.” Such a spirit of non-contention and non-clinging approaches the core principle of the middle way. The skillful refusal to pick one particular viewpoint and cling to it reflects right view; it also expresses the effort that is essential to arrive at resolution. The question then arises: how exactly do we find this mysterious middle—the place of non-abiding, the place of non-contention?

“The middle way” can mean a lot of different things. It can even be used by politicians to describe their war plans. In this investigation, the term denotes the fundamental principle that the Buddha realized at his enlightenment. It refers to the insight of awakening that transcends the later categories of Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana.

“The middle way” is an everyday expression. This renders the principle highly accessible; however, it also belies its profundity. In the Buddha’s first discourse, he equated the middle way with the noble eightfold path, thus defining it as a quality that embodies the entire spiritual training.

In this original sense, it was an all-encompassing teaching. Predictably, in later years and in certain regions, it came to be emblematic of one particular school—that based on the Madhayamaka philosophy of Acharya Nagarjuna. That school was distinguished from other groups such as the Chittamatrans, Vaibashikas, and Sautrantikas. Thus, although it began as a universal principle, the meaning of “middle way” shrank somewhat, within this sphere, to become another tribal insignia.

Although the term is not being used here in this narrower sense, it is nevertheless interesting to explore what Nagarjuna’s insight was fuelled by. For it is in this central principle of the middle way—and particularly in the analysis of the feelings of existence and of “self”—that we find the means to harmonize conflicting views.

In a seminal exchange between the Buddha and Maha-Kaccana, the Buddha says:

“All exists,” Kaccayana, this is one extreme, “All does not exist,” this is the other extreme. Without veering towards either of these extremes the Tathagata teaches the dhamma by the middle way.

—Samyutta Nikaya 12.15

There is a very close connection between this discourse, found in the Pali Canon, and the words of Nagarjuna in his Treatise on the Root of the Middle Way. This latter text is considered a cornerstone of the Mahayana movement, and it has informed the approach of the Northern school for the past 1,800 years. Ironically, it makes no mention of such characteristic Northern elements as bodhisattvas and bodhichitta. Indeed, scholars such as Kalupahana and Warder have pointed out that there’s actually nothing particularly “Mahayana” in what it says.

Nagarjuna mentions the dialogue between Buddha and Maha-Kaccana; further, he writes:

“Existence” is the grasping at permanence; “non-existence” is the view of annihilation. Therefore, the wise do not dwell in existence or non-existence.

—Mulamadyamakakarika 14.10

Both teachings point out how to recognize the feeling of self, how to see through it, and, ultimately, how to break free from the tyrant. They both indicate that clinging to the sense of self is what primarily obstructs knowing the middle way.

These teachings point to the fact that, yes, there is the feeling of selfhood, but they also make it clear that the feeling of “I” arises due to causes. These causes are habits rooted in ignorance and fired by craving. There might be the feeling of “I,” yet, like all feelings, it is transparent and empty of substance—merely a pattern of consciousness that arises and ceases.

This teaching is usually taken to be a philosophical description; however, it is most significant as a meditation tool. It helps us to see that questions such as “Do I exist?” or “Do I not exist?” are irrelevant. Instead the perspective shifts to one of cultivating and maintaining a mindful awareness of the feeling of “I” arising and ceasing. This is the essence of vipassana, or insight meditation.

The dissolution of the conceit “I am” was described by the Buddha as “nibbana here and now,” and it cuts to the root of all contentions.

The Four Noble Truths: Universality and Transparency

It is said that the Buddha’s first discourse, the Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Truth, encompasses all teachings—just as the footprint of all creatures that walk are encompassed by an elephant’s footprint. This is said not only by followers of the Southern school but also by Mahayana and Vajrayana masters such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It is here that the Buddha first articulated the middle way and the four noble truths.

There are two insights crucial to understanding these truths: first, they are relative, not absolute; second, they are not just personal but also universal. This first insight indicates that the statement “There is dukkha” describes a relative experience. It is not intended as a proclamation meaning “Dukkha is absolutely real.” This is one reason why the Buddha called these truths “noble” rather than “ultimate.”

The second insight refers to the fact that it’s not just me who is experiencing dukkha; there is a shattering of the delusion that my experience of dukkha could be more significant than yours. All beings are in the same boat.

It seems that in some regions, the understanding of these two principles shrank. Dukkha became regarded as an absolute reality, and thus a narrower diameter for the footprint emerged. It also appears, according to some historians, that because of this shrinking footprint the impulse for renewal arose, initiating what became known as the Mahayana movement.

The Pali scriptures repeatedly state that the best thing we can do for ourselves and all beings is to be totally enlightened. If that intention is grasped in the wrong way, however, the breadth of its scope can be lost. Our own suffering can drift into seeming more significant than that of others, simply because it’s what we have the power to resolve.

The Mahayana teachings arose to say, “My suffering is felt here, yet it can’t be more important than anyone else’s. All beings have similar experiences.” Of course, this understanding has always been present within the Southern teachings as well; however, it seems that it was obscured by various factors.

We have been looking at this question from a large-scale social view, but all movements are composed of individual human beings. These patterns of development are readily to be found on the personal plane too. During his early years in Thailand, Ajahn Sumedho once declared to Ajahn Chah, “I’m totally committed to the practice. I’m determined to fully realize nibbana in this lifetime; I’m deeply weary of the human condition and determined not to be born again.” Given the classic Theravadan vernacular, that’s a worthy attitude; you’d expect the teacher to respond, “Sadhu! Good for you, Sumedho!”

Ajahn Chah, however, replied, “What about us, Sumedho? Don’t you care about those who’ll be left behind?” In one stroke he had teased his disciple by suggesting that Ajahn Sumedho was the more spiritually advanced and then alluded to the value of a “caring for all beings” approach. He had lovingly chided his disciple for his narrowness.

Ajahn Chah detected there was a nihilistic view rather than dhammic detachment behind Ajahn Sumedho’s comment. And as long as that kind of negativity was active, it guaranteed painful results. Ajahn Chah reflected that attitude back to him by tilting the view in the other direction, highlighting the self-centered negativity.

In considering this encouragement toward a more expansive attitude, it is highly significant that the four bodhisattva vows are actually an explicit extension of the four noble truths. In the Chinese version of the Brahmajala, or Brahma Net Sutra, it addresses this quite directly. Venerable Master Hui Seng, a contemporary elder of the Northern tradition, explains the connection in his commentary to the sutra:

[R]elying on the Four Noble Truths, he brings forth the Four Great Vows of a Bodhisattva. The Four Noble Truths are:

Extinction, and
The Way.

The first Noble Truth is Suffering, and since all living beings are suffering, he brings forth the first Vast Vow, which is,

Living beings are numberless;
I vow to save them all.

The second Vast Vow is based upon the second Noble Truth, Accumulation. Accumulation means accumulation of afflictions. The second Vast Vow is,

Afflictions are endless;
I vow to cut them off.

The third Noble Truth is that of Extinction, and based upon this, the Bodhisattva brings forth the third Vast Vow,

The Buddha Way is unsurpassed;
I vow to accomplish it.

And the fourth Noble Truth is The Way, and based on that truth he brings forth the fourth Vast Vow, which is,

Dharma-doors are numberless;
I vow to study them all.

So, above he seeks the Buddha Way, and below he transforms living beings. This is a reciprocal function of compassion and wisdom.

—The Buddha Speaks the Brahma Net Sutra, by Master Hui Seng

This expression of the four noble truths spells out their non-personal, expansive quality. In the same epoch, a parallel teaching arose that also spelled out the strictly relative nature of the four noble truths: the Heart Sutra.

Probably the most well-known teaching in the Northern Canon, the Heart Sutra has been recited for centuries from India to Manchuria, from Kyoto to Latvia, and nowadays throughout the world. It is the natural counterpart to the bodhisattva vows, and indeed, they are often recited together. The Heart Sutra states: “There is no suffering, no origin, no cessation, and no way.” The sutra thus takes the four noble truths and points out their empty aspect: ultimately, there is no dukkha. We think we’re suffering, but in ultimate reality there isn’t any dukkha.

The Heart Sutra reminds us that the four noble truths are essentially transparent; they are relative, not absolute truths. Sometimes people faithfully proclaim, “Everything is suffering,” as if dukkha were an ultimate truth, but that’s not what the Buddha taught, as is evidenced in the scriptures of both the Southern and Northern schools. “Suffering” is a conditional, relative truth; it is “noble” because it leads to liberation.

Self-View, the Reliable Troublemaker

It is the sense of self that ultimately drives the tribalistic politics that exist today. Ironically, even though the reformers aimed at dispelling the self-centeredness they saw, the problem nevertheless persisted. These divisive politics are like dubious family heirlooms—hard to discard, being so much a part of our collective histories.

The conflict essentially arises as a result of conceiving the arahant and the bodhisattva in terms of self-view. When there is no clinging to any view, the picture radically changes. The Buddha said, “Held by two kinds of views, some hold back and some overreach; only those with vision see.” The former means some people are life-affirmers, delighting in the things of the world. When teachings refer to letting go and cessation, their minds recoil and hold back. By “some overreach,” he means nihilists who rejoice in the idea of non-being, asserting that when the body dies, this self is annihilated. They feel this will be true peace. “Those with vision” see what has come to be as having come to be. They cultivate dispassion toward that and are at ease with its cessation.

As long as self-view has not been penetrated, the mind will miss the middle way. The “ending of rebirth” ideal will tend to get co-opted by the nihilist view, whereas the “endlessly returning for the sake of all beings” ideal will tend to become permeated with the eternalist view.

When the sense of self is seen through, the middle way is realized. Whether we talk in terms of emptiness of the arahant of the Pali Canon, or in terms of the absolute zero of the Heart Sutra or the infinite view of the four vows, these are merely modes of speech. They all derive from the same source, the truth of the way things are. They are simply expedient formulations that guide the heart to attunement with the reality of its own nature. That attunement is the middle way.

The View from the Center

There are many teachings that illuminate this perspective; for example:

As long as space remains,
As long as sentient beings remain,
Until then, may I too remain
And dispel the miseries of the world.
—Shantideva, Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life

To the average Theravadan, this verse by Shantideva might seem antithetical to the path. It appears to run completely counter to that principle to get out of the burning house as soon as one can. However, the practice of the middle way involves taking up compassion teachings along with their partner, the emptiness teachings. These two elements are like the wings of a bird—they can’t function properly without each other.

If we reflect closely on this verse, another layer of meaning opens up: as long as space and identity are held to have substantial reality, the mind has not realized enlightenment. True insight involves recognizing that space, time, and being are imputed qualities that have no absolute existence.

Thus the Southern idea of “me going” and “others left behind” must be missing the mark. Similarly, the Northern view of “this individual being will persist through infinite time for the sake of other beings” has also fallen into wrong view. The practice of the middle way dissolves the illusion that “I” can “go” and “others” can “stay,” or vice versa. It radically reconfigures the concepts of time, space, and being.

So the aspiration can validly be as it is in the verse; but if space no longer remains, if no beings remain, if their nature is recognized as conditioned and therefore empty, what does that say about the “I” who would be “staying”?

The irony is that upon knowing that time, space, and beings have no substantial reality, the “I” is “gone” too—gone to suchness, come to suchness: Tathagata.

Sri Ramana Maharshi once remarked, “A good man says, ‘Let me be the last man to get liberation, so that I may help all others to be liberated before I am.’ Wonderful! Imagine a dreamer saying, ‘May all these dream people wake up before I do.’ The dreamer is no more absurd than this amiable philosopher.” His analysis astutely sums up the issue: only when the heart is free of all self-view can it attune itself to reality; a precise balance is needed.

In The Vajra Prajna Paramita Sutra, we find passages that voice a similar understanding:

Subhuti, what do you think? You should not maintain that the Tathagata has this thought: “I shall take living beings across.” Subhuti, do not have that thought. And why? There are actually no living beings taken across by the Tathagata. If there were living beings taken across by the Tathagata, then the Tathagata would have the existence of a self, of others, of living beings, and of a life. Subhuti, the existence of a self spoken of by the Tathagata is no existence of a self, but common people take it as the existence of a self.

We save all beings by realizing there are no beings. The perfection of wisdom is to see this fact: ultimately, the truth is not self and not other; there is no arahant, no bodhisattva, no birth, no death. Though the heart might incline to compassion, it’s only when we cultivate this wisdom element as well that there is going to be true spiritual fulfillment.

Experience shows that in order to realize a fulfillment that maximally benefits all, we need to know our traits and learn how to balance them out. If we’re a wisdom type—intent on realizing nibbana to get out as quickly as possible—then it’s necessary to develop compassion. We need to lean toward people and things. Or, if we’re an altruistic type, feeling, “I’ve got to stay around until everyone else has been saved,” then we need to incline toward the emptiness of things.

In the equipoise of the middle way, the infinite and the void are sustained. They complement each other; they balance each other out.

“Does She Really Exist?”

The scene: a Buddhist conference in Berlin. Among the many panels and presentations, some teachers have come to give workshops as well. One such elder is an eminent Tibetan lama; he has been giving instruction on The Praise to the Twenty-One Taras. It is now time for questions and answers.

A young man with furrowed brow requests to speak. He asks in broken English, “Rinpoche, for many years now I have been your student. I am committed to the practice but I have the doubt. I am very willing to do the pujas, the visualizations, the prostrations, but it is very hard to have the whole heart in it, because I have this doubt: Tara, is she really there? Sometime you talk like she is a real person, but sometimes you say she is the wisdom of Buddha Amoghasiddhi, or just a skillful means.

If I could know for sure, I would redouble my efforts. So, Rinpoche, Tara, does she really exist or does she not?!”

For a few moments the lama ponders, then raises his eyes to meet those of his inquirer. A smile spreads across his face.

He responds, “She knows that she is not real.”

Not a Thought but Balance

From this place of realization, we can see that there is a reader here and a page out there, but we can also recognize that this is all just patterns of consciousness. It has no substantial reality.

The more we learn to hold this play of forms gently—not clinging to any view—the more there is an attunement. We begin to get the feel. We are not dismissing the faith we have in our favored path, but we are not condemning those who have made other choices. We reflect on the benefits that have come from the practices and principles we know, but we question them and are ready to see them differently, if wisdom indicates a shift of attitude.

We commit ourselves to our chosen spiritual practices with 100 percent sincerity, but at the same time know that all of these conventional forms—Northern and Southern—are utterly without substance. As Ajahn Chah would sometimes say to the whole assembly at his monastery, “There are no monks or nuns here, there are no lay women, no men; these are mere suppositions, conventional forms—that’s all. Wahng! It’s empty!”

The middle way is appreciated as a finely felt sense. It has nothing to do with being mild or halfway along the arc of a pendulum. Rather, it’s the still point that is the center of movement, the axis that the pendulum pivots from. In our heart of hearts we know what it is to be perfectly balanced. There is a deep, intuitive familiarity with this, and this is what we need to sustain and trust. This is the way that the root of concord can be found and embodied.

All this said, the rational mind can still struggle for more precision, “Yes, but what exactly is it?!”

When a piece of music moves us we say, “It’s perfect!” But even in the saying, we’ve almost lost the feeling. Louis Armstrong, when asked, “What’s jazz?” responded, “Man, if you have to ask, you’ll never know.”

The middle way is that wordless quality of balance, of pure and vibrant harmony.

In 1979 AJAHN AMARO was ordained a monk in the Thai Forest tradition in the lineage of Ajahn Chah. He went on to study with Ajahn Sumedho at Amaravati Monastery in England for many years. He is co-abbot of Abhayagiri Monastery in Redwood Valley, California.

Article source: www.thebuddhadharma.com

~End of Post~


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The Power of Unbearable Compassion

When we can no longer bear the suffering of sentient beings, says the Seventeenth Karmapa, we unleash our full potential to help others and ourselves.

Practices of loving-kindness and compassion are indispensable elements of all religious traditions. These are qualities everyone can practice, regardless of their religious affiliation or ancestry. In fact, training to develop loving-kindness and compassion provides a bridge between all religions and all the many parts of our global society.

I am a Buddhist, but I still have to live my life as a member of the larger world community and take full part in society, where Buddhism is not the only spiritual tradition. There are many different forms of religion and spirituality, and there are also many different types of people, including those who are inclined toward religious or spiritual approaches and those who are not.

Since our world community is so very vast and diverse, it is important for us to respect the entire range of religious and spiritual traditions, not setting ourselves up as “opponents” of any other tradition. The way to accomplish happiness in the world is to do meaningful work in one’s own life, with a positive motivation that sees all people and all traditions as equal.

Humans are set apart from other types of sentient beings by their ability to naturally connect with sharp intelligence and with nonviolence, loving-kindness, and compassion. From the moment we are born, we are constantly chasing after happiness, thinking of ways we can become happy and free from suffering, and we actively try to bring those desires to fruition. The propensities toward loving-kindness, compassion, and nonviolence we display in following this quest for happiness demonstrate what makes human beings unique.

For any species of sentient being to continue existing, the members of that species must have affection for each other and they must support each other. In order for our human community to survive, we must nurture and sustain connections of love, compassion, nonviolence, and altruism. These connections are what will allow us not only to survive, but to make our lives meaningful. If we concentrate on ensuring that these connections are present, that in itself will be enough.

All of the Buddha’s teachings are based on refraining from harming others and engaging in helping others. It is therefore of great importance for Buddhists to have these two principles as the ground of their practice. The roots of Buddhist practice are the attitudes of altruism and non-harm. In other words, the roots of Buddhist practice are loving-kindness and compassion.

Of these two qualities, compassion is foremost: in general, we develop loving-kindness by relying on compassion. In the beginning, therefore, compassion is more important. Our compassion must have a broad focus, not only including ourselves but all sentient beings.

Why must our compassion include all sentient beings? Because all sentient beings—oneself and others—want to be happy and free of suffering. This basic desire is the same for everyone. Nevertheless, most of the sentient beings we see experience only suffering; they cannot obtain happiness. Just as we have a desire to clear away the suffering in our own experience and to enjoy happiness, through meditating on compassion we come to see that all other beings have this desire as well. Other beings are not only worthy of our compassion, they are also what cause our meditation on compassion to be possible at all.

According to the Mahayana teachings of Buddhism, all sentient beings are our parents of the past, present, and future. This means that, of all sentient beings, some have been our parents in the past, some are our current parents, and some will be our parents in the future. There are no beings who are not, in the end, our parents. For this reason, all sentient beings have a connection of affection toward us. They have a connection of kindness toward us. But these affectionate and kind parents are trapped in a state of suffering, unable to actualize their desire for happiness. So it is crucial for us to begin meditating on compassion for them, in this very moment.

When we practice various kinds of meditations on compassion, it is not enough for us simply to feel a compassionate sensation in our minds. We must bring our meditation on compassion to the deepest level possible. To make our compassion as deep as possible, we must reflect on the suffering of sentient beings in all six realms of samsara, the wheel of cyclic existence. These sentient beings who are undergoing such intense suffering are the same beings who are our kind parents of the past, present, and future. In short, we are intimately connected with all of these sentient beings.

Therefore, since we are connected to all of these beings, it is possible for us to further our connection to them by bringing them benefit. The most excellent connection we could possibly make would be to cultivate the heart of compassion for them and to think of ways we can reduce their suffering. Reflecting on our connection to these beings, we must engender a level of compassion that cannot bear their suffering to endure any longer. This great, unbearable compassion is extremely important. Without it, we might be able to feel a compassionate sensation in our minds from time to time, but this sensation will not bring forth the full power of compassion. It cannot form the basis of a comprehensive practice.

On the other hand, once unbearable compassion takes birth in our hearts, we will immediately be compelled to altruistic action. We will automatically start thinking about how we can free sentient beings from suffering. Therefore, the way to develop altruism is through meditating on compassion. When our compassion becomes genuine and deep, our actions for the benefit of others will be effortless and free from doubt. That is why it is so crucial for us to deepen our practice of compassion until our compassion becomes unbearable.

Unlike our usual kind of compassion—meditating now and then on the general notion that sentient beings experience suffering—unbearable compassion penetrates and moves our heart. If we were to see someone trapped in a raging fire, we would not hesitate to assist that person. Right then and there, we would immediately begin thinking of and engaging in ways to extract him or her from the fire. Similarly, with unbearable compassion, we witness the suffering of all sentient beings of the six realms and immediately seek ways to free them from that suffering. Not only do we genuinely try to free them from suffering; we are also completely willing to endure any obstacles we may encounter on our path to freeing them. We are unfazed by complications and doubts.

All sentient beings have basic compassion. Even people we would generally consider ill-tempered have compassion; they simply have not brought their basic compassion to a refined level. If ill-tempered people did not have any compassion at all, it would be impossible for them to develop compassion by practicing on the path. All beings have compassion, but their door to the mastery of compassion has thus far been locked. So even though it may seem that some people have no compassion whatsoever, everyone has at least a small seed of compassion. That small seed can grow into great compassion; the potential we all have for great compassion can be made manifest.

Though the great, noble beings can let the full extent of their potential for compassion shine through, we ordinary beings cannot. Though we have the seed of compassion, we do not have the compassion we want. Precisely when we need compassion the most, we cannot access it; the door of our compassion is closed.

Even as we understand that loving-kindness and compassion are so important, we will also find it is quite difficult to fully and genuinely incorporate them into our experience. What prevents us from cultivating our heart of loving-kindness and compassion further is the mental afflictions, especially anger. Emotions such as anger inflict the greatest harm on our path to authentic compassion. For this reason, we must take an honest look at our emotions and ask ourselves, is this emotion benefiting me? Or is it of no benefit at all? We need to engage in a detailed, introspective analysis. If our investigation reveals that these negative emotions are of no benefit, the vital next step is for us to take a similar outlook toward our emotions altogether, all the time; we must see problems as problems, shortcomings as shortcomings.

Let us consider the example of anger. The Buddhist teachings contain rich descriptions of the shortcomings of anger. They describe how anger and aggression produce a slew of unpleasant results, both in the immediate future and in future lifetimes. While some of those teachings might seem to apply only for those who actually believe in the existence of future lifetimes, the buddhadharma’s descriptions of the shortcomings of anger are still relevant for those who do not hold this belief. When we become angry, our face changes and we take on a frightful appearance. We become unattractive to others; even those who are close to us find it difficult to be around us. Since anger in us instills fear in others, it greatly hinders our relationships.

When we clearly see the shortcomings of anger and the positive qualities of loving-kindness, our practice of loving-kindness and compassion becomes strong and we feel delighted about training in these qualities. When we are delighted about training in these qualities, we exert ourselves all the more strongly. When we exert ourselves more, the results we experience also become much more powerful. Being able to discern what is beneficial and what is faulty, therefore, is very important.

Without such discernment, our compassion can become susceptible to the same old habits. Perhaps, when trying to practice compassion, we are treated angrily by someone. We habitually respond by looking at that person in a negative light and resenting him or her. But if we have a deep understanding of the problematic aspects of our negative emotions, and can see them to be like illnesses, we will no longer see aggressors who harm us as bad in themselves. Rather, we will understand that these aggressors are not acting out of their own free will; they are afflicted by the illness of their own negative emotions. Once we are freed from resentment in this way, we are free to grow our loving-kindness and compassion limitlessly, without obstacles.

There are many other obstacles that can prevent our practice of compassion from reaching its full power. From among all of these adverse conditions, one of the foremost is jealousy. Jealousy can rob us of our freedom and interrupt loving relationships between people. Jealousy occurs when we cannot tolerate others being happier than we are. When we continually feel we need to have others below us and have no one equal to us, that is jealousy. When we are controlled by jealousy, we only feel comfortable when others come to us for assistance; we only feel at ease when others are looking to us with hope. We cannot stand being in situations where others have something that we need.

Moreover, in this era many people in society feel that these manifestations of jealousy are justified. Many people seem to believe that when we have competitive attitudes toward others, and when we want to vie aggressively against others for some reward, this is not only acceptable but to be encouraged.

To make our compassion strong and to make our seed of compassion ripen, we need the path. When we enter the path of compassion, we begin to connect with the compassion we need in order to help others, and beyond that we begin to develop the compassion we need in order to attain enlightenment. We already have compassion, wisdom, and many other positive qualities, yet our mental afflictions are far stronger than all of these most of the time.

It is as if the afflictions have locked all of our positive qualities away in a box. One day, we will open that box and all of our good qualities will spring forth. We will see that we do not have to go looking for our compassion, trying to get it or buy it somewhere. It is not available for purchase anywhere in any case. What we will discover is that compassion is present in our minds spontaneously. At that point, a wealth of excellent qualities will become immediately available to us.

One of the ways that people in Tibet generate compassion is by visualizing the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara, and reciting his mantra, OM MANI PADME HUM. I have memories of my mother’s mother from when I was young reciting the mantra of Avalokiteshvara all the time. Even though she was blind, she continued to recite mantras with great diligence. She always had a cheerful demeanor and smile, as if she didn’t have any problems at all. She always maintained a graceful and dignified presence, and the gaze of her eyes was like that of a normal, seeing person. Such is the power of practicing loving-kindness and compassion. The great affection for and continual supplication to the bodhisattva of compassion was a binding force for our family. My grandmother passed it to my mother, and my mother passed it to me, and I am passing it to you, like an heirloom or an inheritance. My family was not wealthy in a material way, so this is what I have to offer as my main family heirloom.

Article source: www.thebuddhadharma.com

~End of Post~


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Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Heart of the Matter

Thich Nhat Hanh answers three questions about our emotions.
By Thich Nhat Hanh

Michael S. Wertz for Tricycle

My desire for achievement has led to much suffering. No matter what I do, it never feels like it's enough. How can I make peace with myself? The quality of your action depends on the quality of your being. Suppose you’re eager to offer happiness, to make someone happy. That’s a good thing to do. But if you’re not happy, then you can’t do that. In order to make another person happy, you have to be happy yourself. So there’s a link between doing and being. If you don’t succeed in being, you can’t succeed in doing. If you don’t feel that you’re on the right path, happiness isn’t possible. This is true for everyone; if you don’t know where you’re going, you suffer. It’s very important to realize your path and see your true way.

Happiness means feeling you are on the right path every moment. You don’t need to arrive at the end of the path in order to be happy. The right path refers to the very concrete ways you live your life in every moment. In Buddhism, we speak of the Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. It’s possible for us to live the Noble Eightfold Path every moment of our daily lives. That not only makes us happy, it makes people around us happy. If you practice the path, you become very pleasant, very fresh, and very compassionate.

Look at the tree in the front yard. The tree doesn’t seem to be doing anything. It stands there, vigorous, fresh, and beautiful, and everyone profits from it. That’s the miracle of being. If a tree were less than a tree, all of us would be in trouble. But if a tree is just a real tree, then there’s hope and joy. That’s why if you can be yourself, that is already action. Action is based on nonaction; action is being.

I am busy from early in the morning until late at night. I am rarely alone. Where can I find a time and place to contemplate in silence? Silence is something that comes from your heart, not from outside. Silence doesn’t mean not talking and not doing things; it means that you are not disturbed inside. If you’re truly silent, then no matter what situation you find yourself in you can enjoy the silence. There are moments when you think you’re silent and all around is silent, but talking is going on all the time inside your head. That’s not silence. The practice is how to find silence in all the activities you do.

Let us change our way of thinking and our way of looking. We have to realize that silence comes from our heart and not from the absence of talk. Sitting down to eat your lunch may be an opportunity for you to enjoy silence; though others may be speaking, it’s possible for you to be very silent inside. The Buddha was surrounded by thousands of monks. Although he walked, sat, and ate among the monks and the nuns, he always dwelled in his silence. The Buddha made it very clear that to be alone, to be quiet, does not mean you have to go into the forest. You can live in the sangha, you can be in the marketplace, yet you still enjoy the silence and the solitude. Being alone does not mean there is no one around you.

Being alone means you are established firmly in the here and the now and you become aware of what is happening in the present moment. You use your mindfulness to become aware of every feeling, every perception you have. You’re aware of what’s happening around you in the sangha, but you’re always with yourself, you don’t lose yourself. That’s the Buddha’s definition of the ideal practice of solitude: not to be caught in the past or carried away by the future, but always to be here, body and mind united, aware of what is happening in the present moment. That is real solitude.

I’m still afraid of losing my mother or another loved one. How can I transform this fear? We can look deeply to see that our mother is not only out there, but in here. Our mothers and fathers are fully present in every cell of our bodies. We carry them into the future. We can learn to talk to the father and the mother inside. I often talk to my mother, my father, and all of the ancestors inside me. I know that I am only a continuation of them. With that kind of insight, you know that even with the disintegration of the body of your mother, your mother still continues inside you, especially in the energies she has created in terms of thought, speech, and action. In Buddhism we call that energy karma. Karma means action, the triple action of thinking, speaking, and doing.

If you look deeply, you’ll see already the continuation of your mother inside you and outside of you. Every thought, every speech, every action of hers now continues with or without the presence of her body. We have to see her more deeply. She’s not confined to her body, and you aren’t confined to your body. It’s very important to see that. This is the wonder of Buddhist meditation—with the practice of looking deeply you can touch your own nature of no birth and no death. You touch the no-birth and no-death nature of your father, your mother, your child, of everything in you and around you. Only that insight can reduce and remove the fear.

From “Answers from the Heart” ©2009 by Thich Nhat Hanh


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