Thursday, August 27, 2015

Koun Yamada on Joshu's Dog

Yamada Koun (山田 耕雲, 1907—1989): Mu!

The story is as you read it: Once a monk asked Joshu, “Does a dog have buddha nature?” Joshu answered, “Mu!” The Chinese character means “nothing,” or “”nonbeing,” or “to have nothing.” Therefore, if we take this answer literally, it means, “No, a dog does not have buddha nature.”

But that is not right. Why not? Because Shakyamuni Buddha declared that all living beings have buddha nature. According to the sutras, when Shakyamuni Buddha attained his great enlightenment, he was astonished by the magnificence of the essential universe and, quite beside himself, exclaimed, “All living beings have buddha nature! But owing to their delusions, they cannot recognise this.”

The monk in the story could not believe these words. To him, buddha nature was the most venerable, most highly developed personality, and a buddha was one who had achieved this perfect personality. How then could a dog have buddha nature? How could a dog be as perfect as Buddha? He could not believe such a thing was possible, so he asked Joshu sincerely, “Does a dog have buddha nature? And Joshu answered, “No!”

Joshu, great as he was, Could not deny Shakyamuni’s affirmation. Therefore his answer does not mean that a dog lacks buddha nature. Then what does Mu mean?

This is the point of the koan. If you try to find any special meaning in Mu, you miss Joshu and you’ll never meet him. You’ll never be able to pass through the barrier of Mu. So what should be done? That is the question! Zen practitioners must try to find the answer by themselves and present it to the roshi. In almost all Japanese zendo, the explanation of Mu will stop at this point. However, I’ll tell you this: Mu has no meaning whatsoever. If you want to solve the problem of Mu, you must become one with it! You must forget yourself in working on it. Your consciousness must be completely absorbed in your practice of Mu.

The above extract is from the wonderful ‘The Book of Mu’ edited by James Ishmael Ford & Melissa Myozen Blacker, and is published by Wisdom Publications. Koun Yamada was a Japanese Zen master and former leader of the Sanbo Kyodan lineage of Zen Buddhism.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Upaya: Skilfull Means

Upaya, ‘skilful mean’s or ‘expedient means,’ is a fundamental aspect of the Buddhadharma (Buddhist teachings).  Whatever teachings exist, they are skilful means to use in our awakening to the Dharma (‘the-way-things-are’). In addition, whatever practices are used, they can be applied in a skilful way to inspire & support our awakening.

Sometimes, Buddhists can cling (upadana) to the Buddhadharma just as fundamentalists that are Christian, Muslim, atheist or whatever may also do with their deeply-cherished beliefs. Seeing Buddhist scripture in the same way as a fundamentalist Christian views the Bible is not the purpose of the Buddhadharma. In truth, it is a misuse of it, often leading to arrogance & intolerance. Buddha encourages us to let go rather than to cling; Buddhist teachings & practices can be used to awaken with, but to cling to them as being incontrovertible truths is to miss the point of their skilful use as promoted by Buddha.

This appropriate attitude to the teachings is related to Buddha’s teaching on views (ditthi). Any view can be classified as right-view (samma-ditthi – a view in line with basic Buddhist teachings) or wrong-view (miccha-ditthi – a view that contradicts the Buddhadharma). Buddha, however, advised against clinging to right-view. Not that he promoted a kind of libertinism – to possess wrong-view is way more damaging than to hold right-view, as our views will affect our thoughts, actions & deeds. Nonetheless, understanding life in tune with right-view is one thing; dogmatically-clinging to it as unquestionable doctrine is another. It’s worth recalling that Buddha taught us to question his teachings and accept only those that we could verify for ourselves, or at least complement what we have already understood. He describes the Buddhadharma as having the quality of ehipassika – ‘come-and-see’ or ‘look-for-yourself.’

Understanding skilful means this way, we can open up to Buddhists with different views & practices to our own. They may use various forms of the Buddhadharma skilfully (or not), but recognising all forms of Buddhism as potential expressions of the same spirit of expediency towards awakening at least leaves us open-minded towards them. A Theravada Buddhist can use the teachings & conventions of their tradition skilfully whilst recognising that a Zen Buddhist may do the same with theirs. Ditto, Tibetan & Pure Land, or Nichiren & secular Buddhism. Moreover, it can be seen that non-Buddhists may be awakening to our true nature via their traditions also. This doesn’t mean clinging to the view that ‘all roads lead to Rome’ and that no differences should be highlighted, however. It simply means using one’s own path skilfully whilst being open to the possibility that the same may be so for others walking very different paths. It’s up to each of us to use what we have skilfully. As Buddha says: Walk on!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Ajahn Munindo on Judgement-Free Awareness

Ajahn Munindo (1951-present): Mr. Freedom

There is a church in the middle of Newcastle that has painted on the front doors, ‘Hate all Evil. Love all Good.’ If you were brought up with that sort of conditioning, as many of us were, you will inevitably have been led to this inwardly divided state. According to this teaching – which I am sure is entirely contrary to the Way of Jesus – God loves good and hates evil. The good ones he embraces and takes up to heaven where they have a good time forever, and the bad ones he chucks into hell where they have a bad time forever. With this kind of conditioning, when, in the face of recognising our faults we want to be virtuous, we start playing God; we set up this almighty tyrant in our minds that’s sitting in judgment all the time. We end up eternally taking sides for and against ourselves – and it is terrible, it tears us apart.

The good news is that taking sides is not an obligation – we don’t have to do it. We don’t have to follow these compulsions. With simple, careful, kind, patient attention we can recognise them as a tendency of mind. They are not the mind itself! They are not who and what we are. And having seen them, little by little, we are less caught up in them. As long as we don’t start playing their game by judging the judging mind, saying, ‘I shouldn’t be judging,’ we take away the counter-force which gives these tendencies their vitality.

We come to know the judging mind as it is. The judging mind is just so. There is nothing inherently wrong with the judging mind. Its ability to evaluate and discriminate is an important part of the intelligence that we as human beings use for our safety and survival. The problem is that its influence has become disproportionately large in our day-today living, and it never wants to be quiet! Through careful feeling-investigation we can come to see this hyperactivity for what it is and allow the discriminative function to resume its proper place. We experience whatever is happening with our full attention but with calmness and some degree of equanimity. In each moment that we see the judging mind objectively – just as it is – we purify the underlying view that we have of life.

In the deeper dimensions of our being there’s this kind of work to do. I would suggest that if we have the agility to move in and out of these various dimensions we will become adept at addressing very complex issues. In our daily life we can usefully set time aside, perhaps thirty minutes each day, to sit in formal meditation, and this agility will grow. Even ten minutes of well-spent sitting, being still and going back to the basic feeling of a total non-judgemental relationship with life, to perfect receptivity to the moment, can be of great benefit. Call it meditation, call it contemplation, call it whatever you like! It is a way of putting some time aside to value this part of life, to keep this faculty alive. And I trust that, as we emerge into the more mundane workaday activity of our lives, in which we engage with people in situations and make decisions and so forth, we will find that we have a firmer foundation. The decisions we make will be informed by an underlying clear view.

The above is taken from the excellent book ‘Unexpected Freedom’ which is freely downloadable hereAjahn Munindo has been a Buddhist monk since 1975 and studied with the forest monks Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho. He is the abbot of Aruna Ratanagiri Buddhist Monastery in northern England.