Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A Buddhist New Year's Resolution

A New Year question: "What's the point?"

New Year is a time when we can reflect on the past twelve months, and make resolutions for the coming weeks. When we think back to the events of the previous year, it does us well to consider not only what happened to us, and what we did, but also how we thought, what our mind states were for the majority of the time. Were we skillful in the way we approached the world, or did greed, anger, and delusion color much of what we did? And, regarding our practice as Buddhists, did we keep the precepts well, did we meditate as often as we intended, and did we develop any wisdom? If we reflect wisely, we can see where our practice faltered, and therefore where we need to redouble our efforts over the next few months. And, here is where a New Year’s resolution can come in handy.

If our meditation practice has dropped off lately, we can make a commitment to a new discipline for the New Year, and if we’ve failed to live up to the way of life promoted in the Buddhist precepts, we can endeavor to fulfill them more readily in the near future. A simpler, but very effective, attitude to cultivate is openness. To be wide open for the world is a challenging but rewarding way to live this life, enabling us to let go of some of the egoistic elements that make us fall short of walking the Way with more purpose. Being open to the New Year and all that it will present to us seems both a wise & compassionate approach to things, and doesn’t involve much preparation or philosophical acumen. All we need is a bit of attention and simplicity.

All that we see, hear, taste, smell, touch, feel and think occurs in our awareness. This awareness isn’t me or you, it doesn’t have a name, and nor does it have an agenda to follow at the expense of others. It is the simple act of knowing in the present. And, if we associate with this knowing, rather than with the ego-personalities that we think we are, barriers start to fall. The barriers that separate me & you begin to crumble, and the barriers that separate this thought from that world start to dissolve also. The experience of duality is inherent in the notion of being a separate self, and to see that such a self is a delusion is to begin to let go of it. It isn’t always easy to do, and even less easy to sustain, but then the Buddhist teachings and practices exist to help in this process of letting go, so they can be employed in this task.

So, turn your attention around to that which is attentive: What does it look like? What does it sound like? Is it a thought or a feeling? The limits of the conditioned senses are where the unconditioned begins; a spacious awareness that contains all that is experienced. Simply by pointing a finger back at our ‘eyes’ right now, we can see this featureless knowing, and that because it is empty of self, it is full of the world instead. No separation, no conflict: Just Buddha gazing at his own countenance. Surely, this is a New Year’s resolution worthy of a bit of effort, the right effort, to give our traversing of the Middle Way a little push into the future. And, when we see that there’s no separation between you & me, him & her, us & them, this & that, then we may have the wisdom to recite with conviction:

May all beings have a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Bankei on the Unborn

Zen Master Bankei: Gazing from the Unborn

"Not a single one of you people at this meeting is unenlightened. Right now, you're all sitting before me as Buddhas. Each of you received the Buddha-mind from your mothers when you were born, and nothing else. This inherited Buddha-mind is beyond any doubt unborn, with a marvelously bright illuminative wisdom. In the Unborn, all things are perfectly resolved. I can give you proof that they are. While you're facing me hearing me speaking like this, if a crow cawed or a sparrow chirped, or some other sound occurred somewhere behind you, you would have no difficulty knowing it was a crow or a sparrow, or whatever, even without giving a thought to listening to it, because you were listening by means of the Unborn."
(Bankei Yotaku Zenji)

The above quotation comes from the Zen Master Bankei (1622-1693). For more on him, read the following: Review: Bankei Zen, by Peter Haskel.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Ajahn Sumedho on the Unborn

Ajahn Sumedho: A smile from the unborn

"The statement in the [Buddhist] scripture that really inspired me years ago, that really meant a lot to me a the time:

There is the unborn, uncreated, unformed, unoriginated, and therefore there is an escape from the born, created, formed, originated. If it were not for the unborn, uncreated, unformed, unoriginated, there would be no escape from the born, created, formed, originated, but because there is the unborn, uncreated, unformed, unoriginated, there is an escape, there is liberation from the born, created, formed, originated. (Udana VIII.3)

This puts it in terms of the unborn and the born, the uncreated and the created, the unoriginated and the originated. These are words, yes, but the born, the formed, the originated, these are sankhara, mental formations, aren't they?

What we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, think, feel, the four elements - the earth, fire, eater and wind elements - the thoughts, the memories, the feelings - pleasant, painful, neutral feeling - the physical body, in fact all experience, the whole universe, is the created, the born, the formed, the originated. So that means everything, everything you can think of, imagine, feel, experience…but there is the escape, there is liberation from the born the created, the originated. There is the unborn. So then reflect on what is the unborn, unformed, uncreated, unoriginated."

Taken from a teaching entitled 'Refuge in Awareness' by Ajahn Sumedho. More on the book in which it appears (on pp.215-216) can be read here: Review: The Sound of Silence.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Shinran on One Mind

Shinran Shonin 親鸞 (1173 – 1263): A deep mind

Singlemindedness is deep mind. Deep mind is deep faith. Deep faith is steadfast deep faith. Steadfast deep faith is decisive mind. Decisive mind is supreme mind. Supreme mind is true faith. True faith is enduring mind. Enduring mind is sincere mind. Sincere mind is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the true One Mind. The true One Mind is great joy. Great joy is the true entrusting heart. The true entrusting heart is adamantine faith. Adamantine faith is the aspiration for Buddhahood. The aspiration for Buddhahood is the desire to save sentient beings. The desire to save sentient beings is the desire to embrace sentient beings and bring them to the Pure Land of Peace and Bliss. This desire is the great bodhi-mind. This mind is the great compassion, for it arises from the wisdom of infinite light. The oceanlike vow is without discrimination; hence, aspiration for bodhi is without discrimination. Since aspiration for bodhi is without discrimination, the wisdom of the path is also without discrimination. Since the wisdom of the path is without discrimination, great compassion is without discrimination. Great compassion is the right cause of Buddha’s enlightenment.

(From the Kyogyoshinsho, by Shinran Shonin)

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Buddha on Right Speech

Think before you speak...

"What now, is Right Speech?

Herein someone avoids lying and abstains from it. He speaks the truth, is devoted to the truth, reliable, worthy of confidence, not a deceiver of men. Being at a meeting, or amongst people, or in the midst of his relatives, or in a society, or in the king’s court, and called upon and asked as witness to tell what he knows, he answers, if he knows nothing: ‘I know nothing’, and if he knows, he answers: ‘I know’; if he has seen nothing, he answers: ‘I have seen nothing’, and if he has seen, he answers: ‘I have seen’. Thus he never knowingly speaks a lie, either for the sake of his own advantage, or for the sake of another person’s advantage, or for the sake of any advantage whatsoever.

He avoids tale-bearing, and abstains from it. What he has heard here, he does not repeat there, so as to cause dissension there; and what he has heard there, he does not repeat here, so as to cause dissension here. Thus he unites those that are divided; and those that are united, he encourages. Concord gladdens him, he delights and rejoices in concord; and it is concord that he spreads by his words.

He avoids harsh language, and abstains from it. He speaks such words as are gentle, soothing to the ear, loving, such words as go to the heart, and are courteous, friendly, and agreeable to many.

He avoids vain talk, and abstains from it. He speaks at the right time, in accordance with facts, speaks what is useful, speaks of the law and the discipline: his speech is like a treasure, uttered at the right moment, accompanied by arguments, moderate and full of sense.

This is called Right Speech."

(Buddha,Cunda Kammaraputta Sutta)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Buddha on Remaining in Emptiness

Enso: Zen symbol of dynamic emptiness

"Ananda, whatever contemplatives and brahmans who in the past entered & remained in an emptiness that was pure, superior, & unsurpassed, they all entered & remained in this very same emptiness that is pure, superior, & unsurpassed. Whatever contemplatives and brahmans who in the future will enter & remain in an emptiness that will be pure, superior, & unsurpassed, they all will enter & remain in this very same emptiness that is pure, superior, & unsurpassed. Whatever contemplatives and brahmans who at present enter & remain in an emptiness that is pure, superior, & unsurpassed, they all enter & remain in this very same emptiness that is pure, superior, & unsurpassed.
"Therefore, Ananda, you should train yourselves: 'We will enter & remain in the emptiness that is pure, superior, & unsurpassed.'"
That is what the Blessed One said. Gratified, Venerable Ananda delighted in the Blessed One's words.
(Buddha, Cula-sunnata Sutta)

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Bodhisattva Vows

The bodhisattva vows in Japanese

Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them all.
Desires are inexhaustible; I vow to put them to an end.
The teachings are boundless; I vow to master them.
The awakened way is supreme; I vow to attain it.
The four bodhisattva vows are recited by Buddhists from Japan to Tibet, Singapore to California. They are intended to encourage in us a limitless intent on both our own awakening and that of countless other beings. The word bodhisattva itself literally means 'awakening-being' and can also be understood as 'one-who-helps-others-to-awaken.' If recited intently, the four vows inspire a concern for the well-being & enlightenment of all suffering beings (and, according to Buddha, all unawakened beings are suffering). Moreover, if we recognise the boundless nature of the teachings, we never have the conceit to presume we know it all - there's always more to awaken to. Humble & helpful; at the very least, the four bodhisattva vows can encourage us to develop these qualities. Humility discourages sectarianism, thinking we know the true teachings but others don't, so as bodhisattvas, we won't judge those who are not, such as Theravada Buddhists and non-Buddhists. rather, we will simply wish to help them in whatever ways we can. We can't all be great teachers or humanitarians, but if we allow the four vows to awaken a taste of Buddha's wisdom within us, then we are on the bodhisattva path: May all beings be happy!