Thursday, May 30, 2013

The practice before and after enlightenment

I previously wrote in this blog:

“Tenshin Reb Roshi also taught that the paramitas are how we get to this awakening and they are also the practice after we have digested this teaching and are awake.  The bodhisattva training of the 6 paramitas:  generosity, patience, ethics, enthusiasm, meditation and wisdom, is how we work with the world of imputation before and how we express the illuminated mind afterwards.  Our practice is this constant study of the mind.  We study how we become disoriented and spun around and our process of reorientation, over and over. “

I have been very moved by this teaching and in the last month, really working on Tenshin-Roshi’s instruction that I took away from the retreat.

·      Welcome everything
·      Practice generosity and patience as our response
·      Before and after awakening

I have found this practice very simple and easily at hand when I’m moving through the day.  It’s not a new practice certainly, but do I actually remember to do it?  Each moment with these practices can see the transformation of difficult circumstances into practice or openness or we could even say nirvana.  Samsara and nirvana are one moment and one practice space.

I was recently in what I consider one of my most difficult circumstances.  Reactivity was in me and in everyone else in the room.  These were ancient karmic responses among family.  I usually just “wanna get out of here” and for most of my life that is what I’ve done – escape.   This time, I realized how much generosity and patience was needed to stay in this room and get through it.  It seemed like every few minutes or every 15 minutes, I needed to remind myself to forgive and be forgiven, to let go, and to be patient.  I needed to remain in the moment without control.  I thought to myself – this is the most generous situation I could be in – forgiving myself and others continuously.

I was taken with the feeling of how much generosity and patience could be mined in difficult situations.  Through the depth of deepening patience practice, one can open up any moment.  Since then, it automatically flashes through my mind, in trying situations, that if I practice patience and generosity, this moment becomes deep and open and free.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Paramita of Enthusiasm

In early May, Tenshin Reb Anderson Roshi came to Clouds in Water for a sesshin.  On the 3rd night, he gave a spontaneous talk on enthusiasm during the last sitting of the day.  It was a great boost.  I became enthusiastic about enthusiasm, one of the Paramitas or Perfections in Buddhism.  Enthusiasm has been translated with many words such as, Right effort, vigor, determination, energy, diligence etc.

Reb’s main message was that it’s part of our practice to be enthusiastic about practice.  It’s our job to make sure our energy and passion for the dharma is refreshed and stays alive.  That matches what I have been experiencing lately after a period of burn out.  I have come to see that my passion for keeping the dharma alive in me, is my responsibility.  I have to look for and enhance where I find the joy in the dharma.  I have to make sure that in each day or each week, there is a part of sitting or studying or service that really connects to my passion and to my excitement for Spiritual life.  If we let this fade, or the flame burn down, or even breed resentment towards practice, our whole attitude towards spiritual life becomes a burden not a resource.  This is a compromised position for a robust wholehearted life.  We have to let “our bodhichitta grow and flourish ever more and more” as Nagarjuna said.

Of course, it goes without saying that there needs to be a lot of effort in order to experience freedom from or within the bondage of egotistical ordinary life.  But as we study “energy” or “diligence” which is necessary for our practice, there are a number of more subtle understandings that can help our ability to SUSTAIN our direction towards freedom or enlightenment.

One of the most difficult of the obstacles to enthusiasm is the tendency we all have to be lazy.  The three types of laziness are:

1.     Our inherent tendency to want ease in our life.  Our love of sleeping and taking the easier, softer way.
2.     Our attachment to worldly activity takes a way from our focus on spiritual practice and is a kind of laziness.  It’s easier to go along with meaningless or frivolous activity, to go with the flow of our habituated patterns, and to involve ourselves, as one author put it, in “general worldly nonsense.”
3.     The laziness of discouragement.  This is allowing our self-evaluation, our sense of unworthiness or inability to dampen down our enthusiasm for practice.  We can lose all pleasure in our practice through our shame or self-denigration. 

The counter balance to our tendency to be lazy is the Four Powers that increase our Effort:

1.     The Power of Aspiration – our intention, aspiration, desire for freedom can help our enthusiasm stay strong.  Our original reason for practicing can be brought forth as energy to keep going.
2.     The Power of Steadfastness.  We need to strengthen our determination and follow through.  The more we follow through on our difficult tasks and our endurance, the more those qualities of determination are enhanced.  I vow to follow through.  We need to take our study and learning about dharma and really apply them to our day-to-day lives.  (application) The repetitive aspects of ritual can be seen as steadfastness.  Sitting zazen everyday can be seen as steadfastness.
3.     The Power of Joy – Noticing, finding and paying attention to the Joy in living is very powerful.  To notice Joy, we place our minds on beauty, on gratitude, on the great mystery of being. We must remember our precious human birth! Certainly we can also find joy within meditation practice.  The peace, rapture, quiet, insight that can come from meditation are all ways to keep our enthusiasm energized.   Thich Nhat Hann has a wonderful admonition that I use often amidst the stresses of our ordinary life, He says, “plant the seeds of joy in each day.”
4.     The Power of Rest – I’m so happy that resting is including in effort.  Without rejuvenation, we cannot just keep going endlessly.  I find, in American, the power of rest is basically ignored or we go to an addictive patterning for a false sense of nurturance.  What does it mean to truly rest?  To let the field actually lay fallow.  To be so patient that we can actually endure a field where nothing is happening.  This has been one of the harder practices for me in the Zen training system.  In the Japanese Zen training system, there is very little emphasis on Rest and when I do finally rest, I often feel guilty.  I’m trying to change this within myself.  Compulsive over-working, I don’t believe, is the Buddha Way.  To the contrary.

Pema Chodron  has a aphorism “Not too tight and not too loose” for Right Effort which has a very balanced sense.  Jizo Bodhisattva’s characteristic of “unflagging optimism” has enhanced my understanding of Enthusiasm.  Somehow, I think, to have a vow without a goal, and to let go of the results of our effort, is to learn how to live with ease.  This sense of balanced ease is what will enhance our commitment to live life after life in vow.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Direct mind without clinging- Huineng

Tenshin Reb Anderson Roshi just came to Clouds in Water for a retreat.  He spoke about the Samdhinirmocana Sutra, which can be translated as “Understanding the profound mystery or intimacy of the Buddha’s teaching”.  It was a very succinct series of talks about what “mind” is in Buddhism and the different interpretations in Indian and Chinese Buddhism.  These talks were a series based on his new book: The Third Turning of the Wheel: Wisdom of the Samdhinirmocana Sutra.

He was working with clarifying our understanding of the Mind-only School of Buddhism.  His main translation for mind-only was conscious-construction-only.   If we have had a taste of a mind that is not working through language, naming, and ideas i.e. a quiet mind or a non-thinking mind or a single-pointed mind, then it becomes easier to understand the meaning of our world which is arising from consciously constructed thought.  Because of this contrast between silence and construction, we become more aware of our obviously constructed world.  It is not that the consciously constructed world is wrong or bad. This is what human minds do.  We construct.  This is the dilemma and paradox of being human.  We must learn to work with relative life and know it as a thought construction. Because of this knowing, we can begin to abandon our clinging to the suffering caused by our own storytelling. We begin to not take our storytelling so seriously and therefore we can enter into the moment that is always free of our constructed bondage.

Reb elucidates:

ALL phenomena have three characteristics:

1.     Imputational, imaginary, fantasy, made up of our thoughts, constructions and projections- our stories and our historic self.  What might be in Buddhist technical terms called the “dream”.

2.     The other-dependent, interdependent co-arising.  All phenomena appear because of an “other” cause.  We, and all objects are dependent on cause and effect.  We arise because that happened.  As Thich Nhat Hann often writes:  the self is made up of non-self elements.

3.     Thoroughly established – suchness.  This is the true reality of each moment.  You can call it, in the affirmative view – suchness, or in the view that negates – emptiness.  But however you label it, it is the eternal source penetrating all time, all space and all phenomena.   It is always present right here right now, completely unimpeded, and penetrated into the appearance of the phenomena of the moment.  I think this is what Huineng was suggesting in the phrase - Direct mind without clinging.

The analysis of the moment into three characteristics helps us not to cling to either side of the duality of form or emptiness.  Rather to see them as co-arising.  With this understanding, we can begin to have a correct relationship with our lives. We can learn how to live our human lives to the fullest.  It is an explanation to alleviate or be an antidote to, what some people could interpret as a nihilistic view of Buddhism; a misunderstanding of “everything is empty”.

In order to live our lives out to the fullest, we have to understand the implications of the first characteristic – that our minds very naturally impute on phenomena a whole fantasy of story, linear time, and desire-oriented attachments.  Even just bringing this understanding to consciousness, affects how we see our relationship to the fantasy stories we’ve created through our thought constructions.  Even this simple awareness makes a change in our clinging to the suffering caused by solidifying our stories.

It’s important to understand the second characteristic – the other-dependent.  We need to understand the impersonal nature of cause and effect. Cause and effect is a natural law of form and by itself, it doesn’t have an overlay of good or bad, it just performs its function naturally.  It does not have the power to refute non-virtue.  So if we do something that is tainted by our imputations, the effect will also be tainted.  Cause and effect is an unbiased mirror but its reflection can be afflicted by our clinging to our imputations and projections.   It can be the dependant co-arising of our afflicted projections or it can be the dependant co-arising of our awakening.  Our practice is to understand the on-going process of our delusions that are afflicted by our imaginations and then, in understanding this, convert this into freedom from clinging to our fantasies and our afflictions.

We like our fantasies because they are a diversion from what is actually going on moment-to-moment.  It is very difficult, radical, mind-blowing, to stay in direct contact with what is actually happening in this here and now.

In the absence of our attachments and our strong adherence to our projections, we can come to know suchness.  When you can see or taste that which is ultimately true and is not distorted by our projections, that tasting in itself will help you to relinquish the projections.  This seeing takes you to Buddhahood, Reb said, and it occurs always and simultaneously with the first two characteristics of projection and inter-dependence.

Pema Chodron teaches this in a quite simple way.  Her directions are to drop the storyline and abide with the underlying energy of the moment.  She encourages us to vow to do this interruption of the storyline over and over.

Tenshin Reb Roshi also taught that the paramitas are how we get to this awakening and they are also the practice after we have digested this teaching.  The bodhisattva training of the 6 paramitas:  generosity, patience, ethics, enthusiasm, meditation and wisdom, is how we work with the world of imputation before and after seeing the illuminated mind.  Our practice is this constant study of the mind.  We study how we become disoriented and spun around, and then we are aware of our process of reorientation, over and over. 

Don’t misinterpret emptiness.  We are practicing correctly when our understanding and taste of emptiness brings us around to taking care of the conventional world even more.  In beginning to understand and use the 3 characteristic in all phenomena, this becomes the focus of the enlightenment process.  This awareness brings the development of true compassion for our stories.  We learn to walk in this world with a deep understanding that things are always free of all our ideas about them. Our ideas don't reach the inconceivable beauty of our lives.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Displaying the Buddha seal with one’s whole body and mind.

Dogen writes in Jijuyu Zanmai that “when one displays the Buddha mudra or Buddha seal with one’s whole body and mind, one is expressing unfabricated and profound prajna.”

The Buddha seal is like a stamp or a seal of authenticity.  Our effort to take the posture of a Buddha during zazen is allowing the Buddha seal to be stamped on us.  Strictly speaking, it is always stamped on us and on all beings and all phenomena. Our inherent Buddha nature is always present but in addition to that, consciously, we are abandoning our afflictions and allowing ourselves to surrender to the Buddha seal.  We are surrendering to a Buddha form and in doing that; we are letting go of all the resistances.

In order to sit zazen, especially during a longer retreat, the schedule and the form of sesshin force us to let go of our own desire system of like and dislike.  We let go of our greed, hate and delusion, and our clinging to any sense perceptions, in order to simply sit down and follow the schedule. 

This is as Dogen’s teacher Nyojo Zenji said, “Dropping off body and mind is to get rid of our 5 desires and 5 coverings.” The 5 desires are the grabbing on that comes through the 5 senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching).  The 6 covering are similar to the hindrances:  greed, anger or hatred, sleepiness or dullness, distraction, doubt, with the addition of ignorance.

 I didn’t really believe Katagiri Roshi when he said all I had to do was “sit down and shut up”.  I wanted there to be some huge peak experience where everything changes permanently and suffering disappears. Such a dualistic and compartmentalized notion I had!   What I didn’t understand is that the human act of sitting down and shutting up, of going beyond my belief systems and my desires, is in itself, dropping off body and mind.  Though there are moments of peak experience and there are subtle and gross levels of dropping off body and mind, the main point is that in any moment that you go beyond your own grasping and the afflictions of the 3 poisons; greed, anger and ignorance, etc; that is dropping off body and mind.  Our efforts are truly not in vain and our efforts are in the present moment, not the future.  Practicing in this way builds up the momentum of dropping off body and mind and that momentum brings a continually deepening understanding of what “dropping off body and mind” means.  

Our zazen belongs to the Buddha. It is the Buddha seal, no matter what our evaluations of it are.

As Shokaku Okumura Roshi says, “Take an upright posture, breath through our nose, keep our eyes open, holding our hands in Buddha mudra, let go of everything coming up in our minds, this is how we show our whole Buddha mudra/seal.  This action belongs to Buddha, not to any one of us. This action gives up owning these 5 skandhas.  We don’t use them during sitting.  We offers our 5 skandhas to Buddha, for the sake of Buddha.”