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!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Wind Teaches Dharma

Is it the flag or the wind that moves - or your mind?

"One monk said that the wind was moving, while another monk said the flag was moving. They argued on and on, so I went forward and said, ‘It is not the wind that is moving, and it is not the flag that is moving. It is your minds that are moving.’"
Huineng (638-713), Sixth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism

The wind is a great teacher. Just like Buddha, Ajahn Chah or Zen Master Huineng, it teaches us the Dharma. Unlike those teachers it doesn't use words, however, nor does it have what we would normally define as a language to communicate its wisdom. Yet, in its own subtle way it's constantly teaching us the way things are, using what we might name 'the language of the wind.'

We might understandably wonder what form this language takes if it doesn't involve words. Well, we humans use languages that have no words when we pull a face to indicate displeasure, produce or listen to music to inspire pleasure, or construct a building in a specific style. (A Gothic cathedral with all its angels and devils communicates very different messages to us than a modern, shiny hospital. Although the inhabitants of both would claim to deeply care about people.)

So, how exactly does the wind teach us? We can't even see the wind, although we can hear it, especially clearly in a gale, for example. We can also feel it on our skins & in our hair as it blows past us. And, although we can't see it directly, we can see the effects of the wind, which I am enjoying as I write these words, occasionally glancing up to see the treetops waving back and forth as the gentle breeze plays with them.

Now, accepting that all this is the 'language' of the wind, why would interpret it as pertaining to the Dharma, particularly. Surely, we can understand this language in a variety of ways, not necessarily in terms of the Dharma. This is true, as it it of anything in life. We can look at the surface of an act involving thought, word, or deed and understand it in that specific context, so that those rustled trees over there simply mean that it's a windy day. But, we can look a little deeper into the implications of what we are seeing, and this what we do when we listen to the Dharma rather than to other aspects of life's many modes of communication.

Returning to those trees for a moment, I will pause in this commentary - the wind manipulates them, and teaches of the continual flux of this universe. They aren't still for a moment, swishing this way and that, in a kind of existential dance. Sometimes they slow down, only to speed up and become almost manic in their movements, all directed by the invisible wind. This characteristic of the wind, that it is unseeable, speaks of another important fact of life, which is that there are unseen forces at work, which we are usually (if not constantly!) unaware of. They are not only active in the wind, but also in everything else that exists in this wondrous cosmos, including in these bizarre constructions that we call our bodies, and which we normally (mistakenly, according to the Dharma), identify with.

Back to this present moment, and the wind softly caresses the skin of this body that sits on the balcony typing with its tapping fingers. It soothes the mind within this body, like an amorphous masseuse tenderly kneading limbs and head. It teaches that the body is part of nature, linked to it in invisible connections that include the wind's breath. But, learning the Dharma is not all pleasant feelings, and when the wind blows over those garments hanging from a clothes horse, annoyance arises in the mind. This too, is a teaching, for it is the same wind that blows on those clothes and this body. So, too, should the mind reflect the balance between what it deems good and bad, for such ideas do not always correspond to the way the world actually is.

Taking a moment to reflect on the quotation from the Platform Sutra at the top of this piece, Huineng's wisdom shines forth as if born on the wind itself, blowing away our delusion. He points to the discriminating mind that will argue over just about anything, including whether the wind is moving or those treetops over there are moving. Pointing directly to the mind that is moving, Huineng brings our attention to that which never moves, what he called our 'original face.' This face, we might call it Buddha-face or even no-face, is what sees the waving trees; it is the space in which those branches and leaves have their being.

All this talk of wind-blown trees takes me back to my childhood and early teens when I used to gaze out of my bedroom window at the tree in my family's front garden. Bathed in the yellow light of street lamps, it was a real attention-grabber. Somewhat hypnotic in its movements, the tree flowed in the wind, its disparate parts unified in a graceful undulation of golden leaves. I would find my mind silenced in these moments, awareness tied to the tree's fluctuations. A state of what Buddhism calls samadhi, or concentration, would ensue. This was my meditation at that time, long before I explored the teachings of Buddha. And, what the wind taught on those quiet evenings long ago isn't so different from Buddha's own words of wisdom that I later came to discover.

A bell tinkles in the wind, bringing attention back from the mind's reveries and to this actual moment. It was the mind that was moving after all! The shadow of a flag catches attention, reminiscent of an early satori, or enlightenment, experience from my late teens, when a fluttering plastic bag caught on a branch of a tree brought about a sudden awakening. Each moment, which is of course this moment, is a chance to glimpse, or better still rest in, this 'original face' that watches fluttering leaves, bags, or banners. And those trees, that bell, or a fluid shadow can all call to attention the Dharma, the way things really are, as they arise and dissolve in this no-face, this 'Buddha Space.' Time to go 'inside' now, the wind's getting cold!

For more on Zen Master Huineng, see here: Master Huineng on Meditation & Wisdom
For more on Ajahn Chah, see here: Ajahn Chah Day 2012

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Amida, Buddha-Nature & Gratitude

"Amida Buddha is like a mirror that shows one’s true self."
(Professor Kogi Kudara, Ryukoku University, Kyoto)

The famous statue of Amida Buddha known as 'Daibutsu' (Great Buddha) is venerated by pilgrims from all over the world, just as the phrase 'Namu Amida Butsu' (Homage to Amida Buddha) is used by Shin Buddhists to praise him. And yet, these acts, as virtuous as they may be, point to the deeper truth that Amida as a buddha represents the underlying 'buddha-nature' that we all share. 'Namu Amida Butsu' is a link, an opening into connecting not only with Amida Buddha, but with the buddha-nature within ourselves. Doing so can free us from our self-created suffering: Namu Amida Butsu!

The calm look of Amida Buddha is reflective of his insight into the way things are. It is also representative of the compassion that Amida has for all suffering beings (us!). Amida Buddha is not 'out there' however, separate to ourselves. He is, as a personification of our innate buddha-nature, within us, and if we can find him within us, we too will be calm & compassionate. Immersing in his peaceful façade can help us to open up to the buddha-nature within, as can chanting his mantra: Namu Amida Butsu!

Shin Buddhists recite 'Namu Amida Butsu' ('Homage to the Infinite Light Buddha') in gratitude for his compassion. Shin also teaches us to be grateful for all the wonderful things we have in life: family, friends, food, water, shelter, medicine, entertainment, etc. We are interdependent beings, depending on each other, on the Sun, the Earth, the weather, fauna & flora. There's so much to be grateful for in life, from our parents to our pets. We don't have to recite a Japanese mantra to express our thankfulness, though (although that's good, too), we can simply utter an inward 'thank you' at the appropriate time, and cultivate this feeling of gratitude. Life will be better for it: Namu Amida Butsu!

Reciting Na-man-da-bu, a contraction of Namu Amida Butsu, Shin Buddhists express gratitude towards Amida Buddha for his wisdom & compassion. Amida is said to welcome all, to be open to all. We can emulate this openness when chanting na-man-da-bu (or some similar phrase), by noticing the spacious silence that the words arise in. Just as Amida is open to all suffering beings, in truth so are we, as this capacious awareness that hears not only our chosen mantra, but also all sounds. Sitting alert, listening to the world is being open to it, and this is akin to Amida's own compassionate nature: Na-man-da-bu!

When I think of my wonderful wife, family, friends, pets, colleagues, students, community, earth, sun, life... there's so much to be grateful for. Gratitude is important in Buddhism, too, and it can be summed up in a phrase such as Namu Amida Butsu ('Homage to the Buddha of Infinite Light'), sometimes contracted to Na-man-da-bu. Reciting this phrase with gratitude can refresh the heart & clear the mind: Na-man-da-bu! Na-man-da-bu! Na-man-da-bu!