Friday, August 31, 2012

Touching the Earth Mudra


I would like to continue to unpack the practice of composure or the practice of no preference.  “With the least like or dislike, the mind is lost in confusion”  (Fukanzazengi, Dogen)

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches this type of equanimity through the use of the touching the earth mudra in various way. 

First, of course, is Buddha touching the earth when Mara was trying to pull him off his devotion to sitting and to enlightenment.  Mara represents all our distractions, taunts and doubts that shake our center and spiritual stability. Spiritual stability is the ability to be centered under all circumstances.  Through our patience, radical acceptance and understanding of the emptiness of all that arises, we can release our likes and dislikes and be the experience of the moment itself.  In Buddha’s enlightenment story, he touched the earth and allowed the earth as his witness to confirm his buddha-nature and right to be free.  In the earth’s quake and roar, Mara disappears.  Funny thing though about Mara, Mara appears and disappears quite frequently!  So this is a continuous practice of reconfirming our understanding and stability.  Our composure.  What is your basis of operation in your life view?  Is it the Big Mind view that can put everything in the most universal perspective and allows us to accept life on life’s terms?

A second way, Thich Nhat Hanh talks about the touching the earth mudra is during a bow.  When our head touches the ground, we can allow all our anxiety to drain into the earth which supports us unconditionally in all times and all places.  He even suggests that we take three mindful breaths, discharging our anxiety into the earth, and breathing mindfully at the bottom of our bow.

Thirdly is the suggestion that the earth receives everything equally whether we would label it bad or good, pure or evil, satisfying or dissatisfying.

From “Touching the Earth, intimate conversations with the Buddha”:

Lord Buddha, there was a time when you taught the Venerable Rahula to learn to act as the Earth.  When people pour or sprinkle on the Earth fragrant and pure substances like perfume and fragrant milk, the Earth does not feel proud.  But when people pour upon the Earth unclean and bad-smelling substances like excrement, urine, blood, pus, or phlegm the Earth does not feel anger, hatred, or shame.  The Earth has the capacity to receive, embrace and transform everything”

This equanimity, to receive everything equally, is the basis of composure or spiritual stability as Katagiri Roshi often called it.  It requires an extremely deep view of life and a kind of patience that is not frustrated patience but the patience that comes from actually seeing everything as Buddha.

Stable as a mountain.  The storms, the winds, the snow, the rain, sunshine, flowers, cow dung and urine, everything is accepted by the unmoving mountain.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Smile of Composure


The third ancestor, Sencan's famous quote from “Affirming Faith in Mind:

“The Great Way is without difficulty;
Just avoid picking and choosing.
Just don’t love and hate
And you’ll be lucid and clear.

This famous quote is very fundamental to our practice.  So important, that Joshu had five or more koans, just on this quote itself.

What does “just avoid picking and choosing” mean?  In our daily life, every moment we choose something.  Should I eat now or later?  What to eat?  Do I write this sentence next or another?  Just as each moment we are making a choice, turning right or left at the intersection, so in each moment, we are dissatisfied with the results.  We ordinary humans, usually or I could say, always, want more.  This is Buddha’s admonition in the First Noble Truth that human life creates suffering or dissatisfaction and that suffering is caused by the Second Noble Truth, our picking and choosing based on personal desires and our personal cravings.  What would be good for Me?  What would be bad for Me?

In Hee-jin Kim’s translation of the Fukanzazengi:
“When “for” or “against” are differentiated, even unconsciously, we are doomed to lose the buddha-mind”
From the Soto-shu translation:
If the least like or dislike arises, the mind is lost in confusion.

The great question is – how do we make all the decisions of ordinary life without losing the perspective of the Buddha-mind?  This requires a great deal of practice, strength and concentration.  Always choosing the universal perspective and the “long-view” as Katagiri Roshi used to say, guides our moment-to-moment choices and our everyday practice of transformation from small mind to big mind.  What is the basis of operation in our life?

Also in the Fukanzazengi, is the words, jikige no joto, which Kim translates as understand clearly the here and now as it is.  Our practice is to receive the here and now with lucidity and clarity, as it is.  This is called “just arising”.  Since there are  6,400,099,180 moments in a day (says Dogen), we have myriad chances to catch the “just arising”.  It is a fleeting experience of life itself, which is so fast and impermanent that it automatically avoids picking and choosing, loving and hating.  It just is what it is and we experience it.  Lucid and clear are beyond evaluation of like and dislike.  To be able to do this is a deep, rare and dear spiritual life.

This ability has been called in Buddhist literature equanimity or composure and is represented by a smile.  Ken Ford lecturing on the Lankavatara Sutra, reinforced for me the importance of the smile of composure.  This sutra works with breaking through all our infinite projections and mental constructions that create our world into the liberation of just arising without evaluation.  Both Katagiri roshi and Dogen Zenji stress that “Zazen is composure” or “composure for the way things are is Zazen.”  With this type of unconditional composure, automatically, we smile at life.  This is the smile of Ananda, Mahakasyapa, and of Thich Nhat Hanh.




Friday, August 17, 2012

Beginning anew


Throughout all religions, there is an emphasis on repentance.  It is the ability:
1.     To humbly acknowledge a mistake or transgression,
2.     To feel the appropriate amount of regret,  not too much and not too little
3.     To assess whether there is some kind of amends making to do.
4.     To let go, pick yourself up, and start over.

In order to live, to serve, to be active in life, we have to have the capacity to let go of our shortcomings and to move on.  Negative narcissism can dwell on our mistakes or our character flaws.   This re-enforces our concept of a solid self.   Of course, neither can we ignore our mistakes.  Practice is to take care of mindfully and with awareness the nature of cause and effect.

What helps us let go and move on is our connection to our Big Minds, the buddha-nature and our universal perspective.  To understand the nature of time helps us not cling to our stories and the burdens of our historic selves.  It is a liberating force.

We live in the moment, but we can’t catch the moment.  A moment in Buddhist understanding is 1/62nd of a fingersnap.  Or in physics- .1 to the 42nd power. (that is a decimal point, 42 zeros, and a one!)  A moment in Sanskrit is a ksana. To acquire the way-seeking mind of spiritual awareness, you have to deeply understand that a day consists of 6 billion, 400 millions, 99 thousand and 180 moments (so says Dogen-zenji).  In each of those moments, the entire world is born and the entire world dies.  Impermanence happens so fast that our intellectual understanding cannot grasp it.  We have an infinite number of chances to begin anew.  We have an infinite number of opportunities to plant a different seed for our karmic futures.  Cause and effect is very malleable and at the same time, we are not in control.

This is a continuous practice of transformation.  It IS practice.  From the bodhisattva vows:  greed, anger and ignorance arise endlessly.  It is a continuous practice to see those concepts of mind, to receive them, transmute them, and let go of them. 

Repentance brings alive the idea that we can be fresh.  We can begin anew.  This freshness is in alignment with the naked truth of time bubbling up fresh in each moment.  This freshness and point of view teaches us the great benefit of letting go and starting over.

Here are a number of repentance verses used in the Zen tradition.  They are often used in the daily morning service, at precept recitation ceremonies and can be used at any moment;  to let go and start again fresh.

Repentance Verses

From Clouds in Water Sutra Book:

All my ancient twisted karma
From beginningless greed, hate and delusion,
Born of my body, speech and mind,
I now fully avow.



From Thich Nhat Hanh,
Gatha for Beginning Anew:

Due to attachment, anger, and foolishness,
I have committed numberless mistakes
In speech, deed, and thought.
I bow my head and beg to repent.
Wholeheartedly, I ask Buddha to witness
My vow from today to begin anew,
To live day and night in mindfulness,
And not to repeat my previous mistakes.
Homage to the bodhisattva of repentance.

All wrongdoing arises from the mind.
When the mind is purified, what trace of wrong is left?
After repentance, my heart is light like the white clouds
That have always floated over the ancient forest in freedom.


From Dogen-Zenji, Eihei Koso Hotsuganmon:


Although our past evil karma has greatly accumulated,
Indeed being the cause and condition of obstacles to practicing the Way,
May all Buddhas and ancestors who have attained the Buddha Way,
Be compassionate and free us from karmic effects,
Allowing us to practice the Way without hindrance.