Saturday, February 27, 2016

Bodhidharma's Outline of Practice

Bodhidharma lived in the 5th or 6th century.  He is traditionally thought of as the man who brought Buddhism to China and is called the First Ancestor in China.  The “Outline of Practice” is his best known sermon.  I was refreshingly surprised at how current this treatise feels to me.  It is truly an outline of how Buddhist practice manifests in a human’s life.  I am going to paraphrase from the sermon so we can get a sense of how to understand it.

There are two ways to enter a Buddhist life.
1.     Entering by principle
2.     Entering by practice

1. Entering by principle.
The first way is to enter by experiencing the principle or eternal essence.  I like the interpretation of emptiness, which unpacks it as - that which lacks inherent existence.  Lacking inherent existence means each form is not a separate unit of life.  There is no unit independent from others.  You can extrapolate that by saying emptiness is truly the expression for interdependence.  It is acknowledging unity by seeing that there is no unit that is not interdependent with everything else.  We are a unified whole or a network of functioning.

We can experience “the principle” (suchness or emptiness) in two ways. 
a.     We can experience the principle by a silent, nondiscriminating, inactive moment of meditation.
b.     Or we might experience the principle by truly experiencing inter-being.  Forsaking the idea of others as opposed to the self.  Or by seeing that so-called ordinary reality and the mystery itself, all naturally and inherently co-arise.  They are not ever separated.

The Second avenue for entering the Way is through practice.  Bodhidharma lists four practices that enable this actualization of the Way.
2.     Entering by practice
a.     Enduring the results of past actions
b.     Practice of acting according to conditions
c.      Practice of seeking nothing
d.     Practicing the dharma.

Enduring the results of past actions is the practice of accepting the karma from your past.  There is nothing you can do about your past actions but accept their consequences.  This is an indication of the First Noble Truth.  Katagiri Roshi called it the sacred act of accepting suffering.  The suffering that is occurring in this moment is the energy of this moment produced by conditions in the past. As Pema Chodron often says, over and over,  “Learn how to stay.  Stay, stay, stay with the energy of the moment.”  I learn, especially through meditation, to increase my capacity to stay with the feelings of the moment.  If these feelings are allowed to be experienced, they will release themselves.  I have learned to trust that last statement.  Experience will release itself.   Bodhidharma wrote, “Upon meeting hardship, do not grieve, but just recognize from whence it came.”

Practice of acting according to conditions.   We live in a world of ever-changing outer conditions.  The Eight Worldly Winds are constantly blowing: pleasure and pain, gain and loss, success and failure, praise and blame.  But no matter what condition we find ourselves in, we can practice equanimity.  Bodhidharma said, “Unmoved by (the Eight Worldly Winds) pleasure, we are steadfastly in accord with the Way.”

Practice of seeking nothing.  This is a very difficult practice.  If every moment is whole and complete in and of itself, then there is nothing to seek. Every moment is connected with the Whole.  And yet our discursive thinking is always wanting more.  Our ego-centric minds are inherently greedy.  Our practice encourages us to go against the trend of human life and let go of covetousness and greed.  Bodhidharma encourages us to let go of our thoughts, which interpret everything as not enough, and stop seeking more.  This sutra says, “To seek is but bitterness, Non-seeking is Joy.”

Practicing the dharma.  It behooves us to keep in our minds continuously the teaching.  We need deep familiarity with the main teaching of the inherent emptiness of all things. Everything is constantly changing and therefore, there can be no centralized self, or no separate independent unit of existence.  Because everything is constantly in motion, the boundaries between “things” become porous and each “thing” influences the other.  If we have enough concentration to keep this in the forefront of our minds, how we act and relate to our so-called ordinary life changes.  This is deeply transformative. 

Practice has a quality of vow in it.  We vow to over and over, notice when we are off, and return to the teaching.  Notice when we are distracted and return to this moment.  Notice when we are turning the wheel of the three poisonous minds; greed, anger and ignorance, and return to the dharma teaching.
If we can do this, each step of our life IS the essence.  Each step turns samsara into nirvana.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Book of Serenity #39 “Wash Your Bowl”

I love studying Joshu (Japanese) or in Chinese, Zhaozhou (778-897).  He has been called the silver-tongued teacher because his koans are utterly simple and profoundly deep and instructive.  Joshu’s instructions are so simple and ordinary that they feel like they are barely there, but I still love them.  It is their nakedness that deeply instructs the barebones of Zen.

I also would like to preface any explanation or unpacking of a koan by saying that no one person has the definitive answer.  Your understanding of the koan and metaphor is equal to mind.  They are instructions given in images or stories and not just intellectual directions.  Once you have tasted your own understanding of a koan, the image and taste of the story can stay with you forever like a friend.  I have found, however, that a teacher’s sharing of their relationship with the koan, often helps me savor the koan on my own.

This koan, “Wash your bowl”, I often use as the base of mindfulness practice.  If we go beyond just the case story and use the whole of the commentaries in the Book of Serenity, the koan will also deepen into itself.   The existential aspect of our teaching is deepened as we read the commentary.  Form and emptiness or phenomena and noumena, meet in the present moment.  This is the quintessential teaching in Buddhism.  The sacred and profane meet in the Now!  Are you there to meet it? That question is our practice.  How is the universe participating in eating breakfast or doing the dishes?  As Thich Nhat Hanh has so beautifully phrased it- can we see the whole universe: the sun, the rain, the field of oats, the farmer, the trucker, the grocer, the cook, in our bowl of oatmeal?  This idea is the technical term in Buddhism - interdependent co-arising.  In washing your bowl, the whole universe is present.
Let’s explore this.

Case:
A monk asked Joshu, “I have just entered the monastery: please give me some guidance.”
Joshu said, “Have you had breakfast yet?”
The monk said, “Yes I have eaten.”
Joshu continues, “Then go wash your bowl.”

This is the ultimate prescription for mindfulness.  Be fully present to what you are doing and then when you are done, do the next thing.  It follows the slogans:

“Do the next right thing.”
“Do the next appropriate action.”

Our admonition in Zen is to stay in the present moment’s activity.  Often we can be that specific about our moments.  Mostly though, the storyline of our life can become the foreground and we have to be a little coarser by saying a slogan like:

“One day at a time.”

Working with that slogan, I have found that one-day is too broad.  I often split it down into; what am I supposed to do this morning, this afternoon, this evening?  In working with this slogan I have found a secondary instruction:

If you can’t do something about your “worry” today,
            Turn it over to the universe’s care.
Or:
If there is no action that can be done in this one day, let it go.

In order to let go or to turn something over, I have to have cultivated a lot of trust that there is a universal energy to rely on.  Trust that cause and effect is always working and underlying my activity.  Which means that if I take care of this one day in a wholesome manner, the effect of these activities will produce a positive result some time in the future (even if it is in the next lifetime! Katagiri Roshi would add and laugh).

Let’s continue this study with The introduction to the koan:
When food comes you open your mouth; when sleep comes you close your eyes.  As you wash your face you find your nose, when you take off your shoes you feel your feet.
At that time, if you miss what’s being said, take a torch and make a special search deep in the night.  How can you attain union?

Again and again, we find that we miss the mindfulness of the moment, don’t we? That’s what Wansong (1166-1246), the commentator of the Book of Serenity, was referring to when he says, “if you miss what’s being said.”  Many times we miss receiving the moment as it is.  If you consistently miss your life as it goes by, please, Wansong beseeches us, take a torch and make a special search deep in the night.   Our torch is our willingness and curiousity to explore our spiritual life.  We must also be willing to go into a deep dark cave to search, blindfold and not-knowing.  In the dark,  we wait for insight.

I often think of our practice and particularly sesshin practice (long intensive sitting retreats) as a way we take a torch and make a special search deep in the night.  We have to push into our spiritual life to find its meaning.  There is a lot of effort to become effortless; to become as naked as Joshu’s teaching.  In Buddhism we practice vigorously and take our torch and search. Yet, simultaneously, we learn how to let go.   We learn to trust the simultaneous working of the whole universe with our own intentions.  We are encouraged to find an effort that is not focused solely on our own individual gain and self-centeredness.  We learn to let go of our endless trying to improve ourselves and get what we want out of life, and learn how to receive and trust what is actually there.

How can you attain union? Wansong asks. What is the union that he speaks of?  This is the union of the ordinary moment and the universal energy of life itself.  Our karmic storied life meets the Big Mind of universal energy in each moment. We could also say, union is trying and letting go intertwined, a strange paradox.   If our mindfulness is strong and steadfast, we can stay with this meeting of the so-called opposites.  Katagiri Roshi called this the intersection of time and space, the truth happening place.  Knowing this intersection is knowing union.

Wansong wrote the Book of Serenity (made in 1224) as commentaries on a collection of koans which had a poem written for each story.  This collection with poetic commentary was made by Hongzhi (1091-1157).  Here is Hongzhi’s poem on this koan:

Breakfast over, the direction is to wash the bowl;
Opened up, the mind ground meets of itself.
And now, a guest of the monastery, having studied to the full-
But was there enlightenment in there or not?

If you are really at the union of the ordinary and the profound, the expression of this meeting seems effortless.  Opened up, the mind ground meets of itself.  Meets of itself  means effortless.  Even for a very practiced practitioner who is someone who has studied to the full, the true discernment is this question – were you really present or not? And the next moment, present or not?   Was enlightenment there or not?  This is a question, we can continually ask.  Are we here or not?  Are we caught up solely in the story of the moment or can we see the moment as the universal energy itself? Are we opened up?  The mind ground is always present, do we know it or not?

At the end of each commentary in the Book of Serenity, Wansong writes a line by line commentary on the case and the verse.  Here is his line by line commentary on Hongzhi’s verse for this case:

Breakfast over, the direction is to wash the bowl – the opportunity goes by so fast it is hard to meet.
Opened up, the mind ground meets of itself – it’s not just today.
And now, a guest of the monastery, having studied to the full – as before, after eating gruel he washes his bowl.
But was there enlightenment in there? – One person transmits a falsehood, ten thousand transmit it as truth.

Each moment goes by so fast it is hard to meet.  Dogen says that there are six and half billion moments (setsunas) in a day.  Of course, its impossible to meet each one going by in superspeed as Katagiri Roshi would say.  But it is possible to feel the mind ground meeting itself – to feel the suchness of our life and our moments.

Before studying Buddhism, as you enter the monastery, and after practicing and maturing, (studying in full) you get the same ordinary instruction.  Have you eaten? Wash your bowl.  Yet somehow, after practicing, the instruction has deepened.  Are you fully present or not?

The last instruction in this commentary is about enlightenment.  To be present and feel the interdependence of the universe and form in our lives, moment to moment  is in itself a great accomplishment.  But Wansong has even more to add.  Is your accomplishment attached to a “self”?

I have taught a lot that Buddhism deconstructs the idea of a separate self.  We are not an isolated unit that is independent. Rather we are interdependent and unified with the world.  Wansong says, if you think you are a one-person unit, you are transmitting a falsehood. It is not possible to say “I am enlightened.”  It is not true that you are an isolated unit who is enlightened.  To the contrary, if you understand that the ten thousand things and ten thousand beings become the self “the you”, then you have transmitted the truth.

(Translations of the koans from Thomas Cleary)



Monday, January 18, 2016

Intention and Vow, New Years

For the past many years, Clouds in Water starts the New Years off with an Intention and Vow Workshop.  It was my answer to the failure, year after year, of my New Year’s Resolutions.  Does Zen allow future goals?  i.e. if you live in the present moment, can you have a future goal? Concurrently, there is the problem of people interpreting “living in the present moment” as liberation from our responsibilities for cleaning up our misconduct in the past and planting seeds for a responsible future.  So how does Zen take care of our karmic, storied life, which includes cause and effect as its primary principle.

I found a lot of understanding in the Tenzo Kyokun by Dogen.  It is Dogen’s “Instructions to the Cook.”  In this discourse, Dogen said, in the evening, prepare for the next day’s meals.  Sometimes, preparing for the future is today’s present moment.

Tenzo-kyokun
Both day and night, allow all things to come into and reside with your mind.
Allow your mind (self) and all things to function together as a whole.  Before midnight direct your attention to organizing the following day’s work; after midnight begin preparations for the morning meal.

Each moment has to have a direction in which you are facing.  That is our vow or our Right Intention for this very moment and those intentions can be clarified and refined into our future direction and our vow.  I like to call it clarifying my North Star.

Just as in olden times, a sailor navigates his way by using the North Star.  The North Star clarifies his direction or at least where the boat is heading.  But in the waves and the weather of the ocean, it is never a straight, undeviated line to the North Star or the port for which they were sailing.  The journey is a zigzag with constant adjustments to keep the boat coming back to the course towards its intended port.  Over and over, in our practice life, we vow to come back to our intended course.

A person in the workshop this year added another metaphor using a compass.  She was someone who actually uses compasses hiking in the woods.  She said, when you first bring out the compass, its pointer in the dial moves wildly and erratically.  But if you hold very still, the pointer will actually settle down and point to the North Star.

So, what is our personal North Star this year?  What, for us, is heading in a positive direction?  This direction is different than having an objective goal in which we can fail or succeed.  One of the principles in Zen is that you make an effort but let go of the results of your effort.  To practice only for success, pleasure, gain, fame, is clearly attachment to ourselves and not the Buddha Way.  But in our effort to practice, we let go of the idea of success and failure, we do the work of the moment facing the direction of our choice and find the aliveness in the energy of the task itself.

Uchiyama Roshi in unpacking the Tenzo Kyokun says:
 Our present direction is clearly defined but without having a goal. When we stop projecting goals and hopes in the future, and refuse to be led around by them, yet work to clarify our lives, that is, the “direction” of the present, then we discover an alive and dynamic practice.”

It behooves us to produce conditions that will flourish our karma in a wholesome direction.  We have to take care of the conditions of our life.  This intentional living is not an abstract idea but can be a strong awareness of cause and effect in our life.

Uchiyama Roshi continues:
“No matter where we are or whatever circumstances we are in, we are always living out our own life.  A fool views his own life as if it were someone else’s.  Only a wise man realizes that even in his encounters with others, he is living out his own life within those very encounters.”

Although we don’t have control of what happens in our futures, we do have the responsibility to plant wholesome seeds and face in the direction we want to go in our present moments. 

Our practice is to take care of each moment with care and understanding, and simultaneously to stay connected with the Big Mind of the universe.  The universe is always supporting us even if we don’t consciously know it.  This is the main work of a human life.  We can find where our personal story or karma intersects with universal energy.  That intersection happens in the current moment.  We have to live each moment with the Whole.

Uchiyama Roshi adds:
“We have to exhaust all our effort to manifest and actualize eternity at this point
where our Self encounters all matters here and now and to devote ourselves to move in that direction whereby the whole world becomes settled within itself.”

We could add an admonishment from Dogen:
“The practice of the buddhas is carried on together with the whole world and with all sentient beings.  If it is not a practice together with all things, it is not the practice of the buddhas.”

In this regard, an image that corresponds to the above is:
We turn the dharma wheel
And the dharma wheel turns us.
Or
The dharma wheel turns us
And we turn the dharma wheel.

This image allows us to see a rhythm between trying and receiving; effort and effortlessness.  Each of us in our own unique personalities can find that balance.  Some of us need to back off from our controlling effort and others need to come forth more and direct our lives more.  We each find our own unbalance in effort, given our particular personalities and circumstances and try to correct it.

In order to become more clear about our direction and specific intentions for the year, in the workshop we write about these questions, which seem to bring forth some clarity.  After that, they are discussed in small groups.

1.     What are concrete things you already know about the coming year’s schedule.
2.     What do you regret about last year?  What don’t you regret?  What was a learning experience?
3.     What’s the most important thing this year?  What is it that you are called to do or meant to do?  What don’t you want to do?
4.     Can you flesh out or condense what you have discovered into a few succinct intentions?
5.     What keeps you from your intention?  What obstacles, sub-personalities, self-talk, inner critic, or inner voices, make it difficult to follow your North Star?

We end the retreat by making a mandala or drawing an image or poster that expresses our North Star.



Sunday, December 20, 2015

BOS. 25 Yanguan's Rhinoceros Fan

Bos. Koan 25 from the Book of Serenity

One day Yanguan called to his attendant, “Bring me the rhinoceros fan.”
The attendant said, “The fan is broken.”
Yanguan said, “If the fan is broken, then bring me back the rhinoceros!”
The attendant had no reply.
Zifu drew a circle and wrote the word ‘rhino’ inside it.

This is one of my favorite instructions for Zen.  At first read, the koans are somewhat obscure but as you work with them, and as they get unpacked by a teacher, I find that they become images of instructions stronger than words.

Let’s start with the first two sentences.  A teacher asked the Jisha, or attendant, to bring him his fan.  The attendant replied, “the fan is broken.”  The teacher’s request cannot be satisfied.  “The fan is broken” has become for me a strong image of the first Noble Truth – that life has dissatisfaction or suffering built into it.  This is what I understand about Samsara – the wandering-in-circles world or the world of form and appearance.  In the world of Samsara, everything is inherently broken.  "Inherently" means that because of birth, there is always death.  Because of gain, there is always loss.  We cannot escape pain, loss, failure and blame.  Each dharma or each moment, has built into it, its decline and loss.  So, Samsara is ALWAYS broken.  We cannot grapple with life and end up satisfied.  We have to face our death, one way or the other.

I first became aware of this idea through Pema Chodron’s teaching in the ‘90’s.  I learned through her what Trungpa Rinpoche used to say - that “unrequited love is the heart of the world.” That was the last thing I wanted to hear.  I really wanted to hear that through spiritual life I could transcend the pain and dissatisfaction of my life.  I began to practice digesting the teaching that form life is inherently broken.  The fan is broken.

If the fan is broken, how can we successfully live our life?  How can we successfully fan ourselves and perform life’s functions?  That is the deep question of practice.

The teacher answered, “Then bring me the rhinoceros!”

What does this mean?  Of course, the attendant can’t bring him the “real” rhinoceros!  That rhinoceros was killed in the process of obtaining the tusk.  In the twenty-first century, killing animals for their tusks is illegal and unacceptable.  But in the 800’s, when this story was told, this was quite common place.  People had ivory fans or ivory holders for fans. To explore this koan, I think we have to go underneath the difference in our cultures, and allow the mind to digest the metaphor of bring me the rhinoceros.

Bring me the rhinoceros, for me, is an image for bring me that which created the tusk, bring me the source of life.  Are you in contact with the mystery of life and its wholeness and completeness, which is expressed in each moment?  This dynamic wholeness is anything but broken.  It is life itself, including birth and death, coming and going etc.   Through meditation and practice we can begin to discover that which dynamically works with form, but is also empty of formed existence. 

In the introduction to the koan it says:
Oceans of lands without bound are not apart from right here:  the events of infinite aeons past are all in the immediate present.

These oceans of lands without bound are simultaneously arising with all the forms that are whole or broken. This is called co-arising in Buddhist vernacular.  It means to be connected even in the midst of the events of our life and the appearance of each moment, with the whole dynamic working of the universe and life. 

Thich Nhat Hanh suggest that this understanding goes beyond our concepts of life.
Beyond the Eight concepts:
            Birth and death
Permanence and dissolution
Coming and going
One and many
And allows our understand to grapple and experience the Eight No’s:
No birth, no death
No permanence, no dissolution
No coming, no going
No one, no many.

With this understanding of the source, are we able to express that vitality in each moment of our activity.  Can we bring forth the rhinoceros or the source of life?

We don’t know if the attendant’s silence was an alive silence like Vimalakirti’s silence of interconnection with the whole, or if his silence was the dumbfounded response of a student trying to answer from his discriminative thinking?  Maybe that’s a question we can ask ourselves in our everyday life.  Is this action connected to the whole dynamism of life or am I lost in the routine of my life and somewhat dead?

I love Zifu’s response.  He responded in an action.  This is one of the most important of our practices.  As Dogen would say, “Just do it”.  Bring your practice to life in your actions.  I wanted to feel what it would be like to draw a circle and write “rhino” in the center.  So I did it.


This was a very alive action.  It was a “doing” of the coming together of the thought or word and the action of dynamism.

I also found it ironic that he uses a "word" “rhino” inside his circle.  If we do not understand that every form, every thought, every dharma is included in the mystery, we have a tendency to say that thought or word is not “it”.  That words and the mind take us away from suchness or the source.  We might consider them a blocking hindrance.  But this is again an example that EVERYTHING is Buddha, including our discriminative thought, our language and our actions as human being.

I like that all the essential instructions for a zen life are included in this koan.
·      Understand the suffering of human life, the first noble truth
·      Find the suchness or source in each moment
·      Take an action that is dynamic and appropriate to the moment.

I put a capping verse together:

Teardrops of brokenness
For our thoughtful expectations of wholeness
Destruction inherent in each moment’s arising
Feel the source in the circle of talk
No coming, no going.