Friday, December 27, 2013

New Year's Reflection 2013

Who's Santa really pointing at?

Here we are on the brink of another year. We can use this opportunity to reflect over the past year, or to ponder the future. This can be beneficial, as long as our reflection does not turn into regret or resentment, and as long as our pondering does not turn to fear or worry. Whatever we do on the eve of 2013, we can do it with awareness. If we act from a state of knowing rather than nescience, we have a greater chance of doing it right, and even developing some wisdom.

Wisdom is needed in this world. Look at the sky ripped open, the still-hungry millions, the near-extinct animals, the war-mongering, and the general fear. We need wisdom to learn how to live peacefully & without ruining the planet. On New Year's Eve, many of us will get out of our heads on alcohol and/or drugs, shutting out the suffering world, and burying our own miseries beneath copious amounts of intoxicants. This, however, will simply leave us with a hangover on New Year's Day, and no deeper understanding of the world, including those we claim to love.

Love is needed in this world. Not love based on lust, nor love that demands that people act and say the things we want to see and hear, but real love that allows people to be themselves, whether straight or gay, hip or nerdy, gregarious or solitary, or whatever. In this kind of love, we are open to the suffering both in ourselves and others, and therefore more able to respond appropriately, helping where needed. How can we approach the world with this kind of love?

Love and wisdom are two sides of the same coin. According to Buddhist tradition, they are the two wings of enlightenment. If we can see the world with wisdom, we will also develop love for it, for we will see that it is us, and therefore love it as we love ourselves. If we can feel the world with love, we will also develop wisdom towards it, for we will feel its suffering, and with this wisdom know the way out of suffering. We are enlightened together, as one.

One way to see this unity is to simply look. Try out this following exercise and see if it's true for you. It's really easy to do, and what it reveals can start a quiet revolution of insight that releases love & wisdom into our lives. One point to remember as we go through it is that we accept what we see as it is right now, and not filtered through our intellect, which will surely distort the truth of this moment. Anyway, here it is:

Point at the scene in front of you, taking note of the size, color, shape and opacity of an object you can see. Next, point to another object near to where you are, answering the following questions: how big is it? What color is it? What shape is it? Can you see through it, or is it opaque?
Next, point at your own feet, asking and answering the same questions as above, before moving on to focus on your legs. Take a look at your torso, also taking the time to analyze its size, color, shape and solid nature.
Now, point your finger at your face – or at least where others see your face. What do you see? How big is it? What color is it? Does it have a shape? Is it an opaque thing, or the exact opposite? Pointing at where others see my face, I see no such thing. Right here, right now, this finger is directed not at a face or head, but thing whatsoever!
All the different sized things on display are in stark contrast to what I see here: they appear in the absence of any such thing here. Ditto colors – there are no colors here other than the colors of the objects arising in awareness. The same is true of shape – the ‘no thing’ here has no shape, as only things have shape, and there’s no thing here to have a shape! As to opacity, all the opaque objects that can be seen right now occur in this invisible no thing: its absence is their being. What do you see when you point at your ‘face’?

This emptiness at the heart of our selves isn't merely a meaningless nothingness, however. It is full of the world, the scene before us. As this emptiness, we are full of the world, people, & animals that we see. Furthermore, there's no perceivable gap between this emptiness and those creatures - it's all one, undivided and together. We are each other, and we can see this simply by looking! The trick is to accept what we see, and then the challenge is to live from this vision, open to the world, the people, and the animals that we see. But, it's worth the effort, as it is living without separation, rivalry or hatred. And what could be more a more worthwhile New Year's resolution than that?

So, after the hangover's worn off, or the incense sticks have burnt out, we might take the time to look back at who's living this life, and see the emptiness at the heart of all this oh-so precious existence. Seeing this emptiness, we have the means to develop the wisdom mentioned above, for when everything - including the thing called 'me' - is seen to be empty, we see it in a completely different way. And love is no longer reserved for this self and those close to it, but spread out to all we meet.

Anyhow, wishing you all the love and wisdom in the world for the New Year. Have fun over the festive period, and on New Year's Day take a few moments to see where all this stuff ('the world') comes from. It's a real eye opener!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Layman Pang & Zen Master Shitou


In the year 785, Layman Pang went to see Zen Master Shitou Xiqian and asked him, “What about someone who has no connection with all worldly phenomena?”

Shitou put his hand over the Layman's mouth, and in a flash he had a sudden realization.


One day Shitou said, “I’ve come to visit you. What have you been doing?”

The Layman said, “If you’re asking what I do every day, there’s nothing to say about it.”

Shitou said, “What did you think you were doing before I asked you about it?”

The Layman made up a verse:

"What I do every day is nothing special: 
I simply stumble around. 
What I do is not thought out, 
Where I go is unplanned. 
No matter who tries to leave their mark, 
The hills and dales are not impressed. 
My supernatural power and marvelous activity - 
Drawing water and carrying firewood."

Shitou approved, saying, “So, are you going to be a monk or a layman?"

The Layman said, ''I will do whatever is best.”

It came to pass that he never shaved his head to join the monkhood.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Seeing Buddha Mind

The proof is in the seeing.

"The primary misconception about the mind and body is the false view that the mind dwells in the physical body."
(Buddha, Shurangama Sutra)

In Buddhism, mind is often used to indicate the perceiver, the knower; spacious awareness. Looking now, I see all things, including this body, arising in this mind, not mind in a body. This may sound crazy, for common sense dictates that the mind resides on the body - but is this actually true from direct experience? The only way to know for ourselves whether the mind is in the body or the body is in the mind is to look and see for ourselves. And by look and see, I literally mean look and see.

Taking 'mind' to indicate awareness, that which knows, look now. All the objects that you can see right now, where do they occur? They exist in awareness, in this very mind. In reality, I cannot see mind contained in anything; it is unrestricted, unshackled by a container, bodily or otherwise. Instead, all things exist in this no-thing, this Buddha Mind which is none other than my true being. This observation is confirmed by the Buddhist monk Ajahn Brahm, who has said:

"Indeed, remembering that the mind is the biggest thing in the world - the mind cannot be within three-dimensional space, but three-dimensional space is within the mind - the mind contains the universe."
(Ajahn Brahm, 'Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?')

All very well from one's personal point-of-view, you might say, but this isn't exactly scientific, is it? Well, let's see. Science teaches us that we experience the world in our mind, as data is collected via the five physical senses and perceived in the mind. An example is that of what we see. Light bounces off objects and hits the eye, which then sends this visual data to the brain. It is here, in the mind that sights are then experienced, recognized and responded to. 

Moreover, we see the world as our mind reconstructs it from the sense data that it collects. Therefore, any preconceived ideas that we have about the world will affect the way that we experience it. This reflects Buddha's opening words in the Dhammapada, when he states that, Mind precedes all things. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. The world, as we experience it, is dependent upon our senses and the mind in which it is perceived. Ask any two witnesses from a crime scene what they saw, and they will in all likelihood recall somewhat different events, dependent on their minds.

"All buddhas and all sentient beings are nothing but the one mind, beside which nothing exists. This mind, which is without beginning, is unborn and indestructible."
(Huangbo, Chuan Xin Fa Yao)

So, looking now, seeing 'all sentient beings' - humans, animals & insects - they are seen to be in the mind, nowhere else. As to this mind itself, is it perceived to be made of destructible things that will fade & die away? When looking now, I can find no such impermanent things, only the no-thing in which all worldly things are born, live & die. So, although this body was born, and will one day die, this mind is unborn and cannot die. 

Buddhist and scientific descriptions of how we experience the world are confirmed through actually looking & seeing what we truly are. 'Buddha Mind' hosts the entire cosmos within itself, not the other way around, and this awareness is not experienced as an impermanent thing, but rather a no-thing that has no perishable characteristics. Buddhist truth, scientific truth & experiential truth turn out to be one and the same truth, experienced through a simple act: Seeing!