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Friday
Jun012007

Ask the Teachers

Q: For the last five years, I have been committed to meditating daily, either at home or at the zendo I currently go to. I also participate in our monthly daylong sesshins, zazenkais, and weeklong retreats. Actually, practice has gotten to be almost addictive!

I respect and admire my current teacher, but recently I participated in a zazenkai with a teacher at another zendo and really liked her dharma talk and the sangha members. I originally chose my current zendo mostly because it is near my home, making morning sittings convenient. But after hearing this other teacher’s dharma talk, I got a sense that a teacher-student relationship with her would be more supportive and nurturing.

I feel I’m being disloyal toward my current teacher for considering moving to another one. Yes, “it’s a poor workman who blames his tools.” Am I just imagining that my practice would grow and strengthen with another teacher? What if it really would? I find myself going from one teacher to the next—a few years with one, a few with another. Living in New York, I am fortunate to have a variety of Zen teachers from various schools and backgrounds available to me.

How do you know if you should be with one teacher or another?

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Friday
Jun012007

The Multitudes of Thich Nhat Hanh


Buddha Mind, Buddha Body
By Thich Nhat Hanh

Reviewed by Hozan Alan Senauke


Thich Nhat Hanh wears simple brown robes and serves the world as a monk, Zen teacher, activist, scholar, poet, a bridge among the world's faiths, and a kind of revolutionary. Like Walt Whitman, he could say in good faith, "I contain multitudes." But then he would no doubt assert that we all contain multitudes. For thirty years, Thich Nhat Hanh (or Thay, as students respectfully and familiarly call him) has been cultivating the ground of Buddhism in the West. I like Richard Baker's description of him, quoted in Being Peace: he is "a cross between a cloud, a snail, and piece of heavy machinery-a true religious presence."

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Friday
Jun012007

Book Briefs

One of the threads connecting Buddhists throughout the world is a collection of stories know as the jatakas, which depict Shakyamuni’s hundreds of previous lives spent perfecting virtues as animals of different species and humans of different classes. In The Jatakas: Birth Stories of the Bodhisatta (Penguin, 2007), Sarah Shaw offers new and highly accessible translations of twenty-six stories from the ancient Pali collection. The previous six-volume translation of all 547 stories, edited by E.B. Cowell in the late-nineteenth century, was intimidating to many readers because of its sheer size and also its archaic Victorian language. Shaw offers a much smaller selection, and her translations are in clear and contemporary English, which makes the book more appealing for new readers as well as old. She skillfully bridges the gap between the necessary compactness of the Penguin paperback and the large body of scholarship on the jatakas with an informative introduction to the book, short introductions to each story, helpful appendices, and a glossary of terms.

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Thursday
Mar012007

Profile: Karma Triyana Dharmachakra

Photo: Naomi Schmidt

A year before his death in 1981, His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa, head of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, was traveling in the United States on what would become his last world tour. At that time, he showed some of his students a sketch he had made years before. It depicted what His Holiness envisioned for his principal seat in the Western world: a fully functioning Tibetan-style monastery in a North American setting. Now, more than twenty-five years later, his vision – Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD) – is on the verge of completion.

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Thursday
Mar012007

Pain Not Suffering

As long as we have bodies, we will have physical pain. Buddhism promises no escape from that. What we can change is how we experience pain. Four well-known Buddhist teachers offer techniques to lessen pain’s mental suffering, look at its true nature, and learn its valuable lessons.

Built-in Buddha

Bhikkhu Bodhi on the stern but eloquent teachings of chronic pain.

When I write about living with pain, I don’t have to use my imagination. Since 1976 I have been afflicted with chronic head pain that has grown worse over the decades. This condition has thrown a granite boulder across the tracks of my meditation practice. Pain often wipes a day and night off my calendar, and sometimes more at a stretch. The condition has cost me a total of several years of productive activity. Because intense head pain makes reading difficult, it has at times even threatened my vocation as a scholar and translator of Buddhist texts.

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Thursday
Mar012007

The Natural State of Happiness

Happiness may be natural but it can feel very elusive unless you know how to cultivate it properly, says Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche. He presents five noble qualities that enable us to experience this ever-present happiness.

We all know, intellectually at least, that the Buddha’s dharma is not merely a topic of study, nor is it simply something to be practiced on our meditation cushions. But as we hurry through our daily lives, it is easy to forget that the quality of formal practice is intimately tied to the quality of our minds, moment to moment. Practitioners of all levels can benefit from instructions on how to enrich their own lives and the lives of others by cultivating five noble qualities that are within reach of us all: contentment, rejoicing, forgiveness, good heart, and mindfulness.

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Thursday
Mar012007

No Choice But Radical Acceptance

“When you understand that this present moment is all there is, you have no choice but to come to a radical acceptance, which is none other than true peace and composure.” Two teishos by Eido Shimano Roshi.

Obaku Bangs His Staff

 

The Master (Rinzai) was dozing in the monks’ hall. Obaku (Huangbo) came in. Seeing this, he struck the platform with his staff. The Master raised his head. Noticing it was Obaku, he resumed dozing. Obaku again struck the platform. He then proceeded to the upper part of the hall. Seeing the head monk in zazen, he said, “The youngster in the lower part of the hall is doing zazen. What kind of delusions are you indulging in here?” The head monk said, “This old fellow, what are you doing?” Obaku struck the platform once more and left.

Later Isan (Weishan) asked Kyozan (Yangshan), “What was the intention of Obaku’s coming to the monks’ hall?” Kyozan said, “One contest, two victories.”

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Thursday
Mar012007

Full-Stop Mind

The late Burmese teacher Mahasi Sayadaw helped to revitalize the Vipassana tradition with his precise teachings on meditation. His student Bhante Bodhidhamma presents Mahasi’s simple and direct method for slowing down and ultimately halting conceptual thinking.

It has been more than 2,500 years since the Buddha first expounded the teachings. Throughout history, the teachings, the dhamma, have at times lost their vitality. But reformation movements—some large, some small—have always helped to revive them. In Theravadan Buddhist countries, the Burmese teacher Mahasi Sayadaw has been credited widely with bringing new insight to the practice of vipassana. His system demands a total dedication to keeping the attention inward, from the moment of waking until the end of the day. The three characteristics of Mahasi’s technique are observing the breath at the abdomen, noting, and going very slowly.

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Thursday
Mar012007

Forum: How Does Karma Really Work?

Introduction by Andy Karr

Few Buddhist ideas resonate more, yet produce more dissonance for Western dharma practitioners, than karma. It’s easy to feel that the laws of karma are at work when you see the chickens coming home to roost for someone with an outsized ego. They had it coming. But we are still waiting to see the Harvard Business School case study of how Bill Gates’ extraordinary generosity in previous lives caused his unbelievable wealth in this life.

Karma is a Sanskrit word that means “action.” The teachings on karma are about action and its results, cause and effect. On the cause side of the equation, intention or motivation is crucial. The seminal text The Treasury of Abhidharma by Vasubandhu (fifth century) says that karma is intention and the acts that flow out of intention. If you worry about the karmic consequences of all the dead bugs splattered on your windshield, don’t. When there is no intention to cause harm, no negative karmic seeds are planted.

On the effect side of the equation, the cardinal rule is that karma never fades away. The results of an action may not mature for many lifetimes, but when appropriate conditions are encountered, the results inevitably arise. And they always arise for the one who performed the action.

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Thursday
Mar012007

The Path of Foolish Beings

Who are the foolish beings? According to the Shin tradition of Pure Land Buddhism, we all are. Mark Unno explains that only by becoming aware of our limited self and acknowledging our fundamental foolishness can we realize the oneness of all beings and the limitless flow of compassion.

One of the implications of the Mahayana Buddhist idea of emptiness is that the important question is not “What does it mean to be a Buddhist?” It is “What does it mean to be a human being?” That’s because emptiness applies to Buddhism itself as much as it does to ordinary objects of attachment. It is only when one has been “emptied” of all preconceived categories, including those of Buddhism, that the deepest reality of being human becomes apparent. As the Zen master Dogen states, “To study the buddhadharma is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self.”

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