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Thursday
Dec012005

Is There a Zen Person Around Here?

Japanese master Eihei Dogen is best known for his comprehensive and profound masterwork, the Kana, or Japanese, Shobogenzo. This monumental achievement, a collection of ninety-five discourses and essays composed in Japanese between 1231 and 1253, is a unique expression of the buddhadharma based on Dogen’s profound religious experience.

A lesser-known work of Dogen’s is his Mana Shobogenzo, or Shobogenzo Sambyakusoku (Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Three Hundred Cases), a collection of three hundred case koans written in Chinese. This seminal work, which was to influence all of Dogen’s other teachings, remained in obscurity for many centuries. Dogen culled the three hundred case koans collected in the Mana Shobogenzo from Zen texts of the Song era during his travels in China between 1223 and 1227. And, unlike the classic collections of the period, these cases are not accompanied by either a title or a commentary.

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Thursday
Dec012005

The Three Lineages

Inspiration, innovation, institution—Reginald A. Ray looks at the different manifestations of lineage and how they maintain their awakened quality.

All religions concern themselves with questions of authenticity and legitimacy. How can we tell whether a particular teacher or teaching is a genuine and true reflection of a certain tradition? In Tibetan Buddhism, the question of legitimacy comes down to the question of lineage: Which teachers embody and transmit the authentic lineage? Which teachings and practices are legitimate reflections of genuine lineage? For that matter, what do we even mean by lineage?

In Western religious history, it has been common for institutions to determine what is religiously “legitimate” and “authentic,” and people often look to institutional leaders or hierarchies to evaluate the lawfulness of individual teachers, teachings, and practices. This kind of approach might seem particularly appropriate to the theistic religions, where truth is understood to be external to the individual, and the individual is thought to lack the capacity to judge truth or reality.

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Thursday
Dec012005

Forum: How to Be a Student

Many years ago I set off hitchhiking across six states in pursuit of a religious experience. I hoped to break free from conventional life and embark on a momentous and romantic spiritual path, the stuff that would make a great autobiography someday. I was going to see the great guru. As I sat in my flouncy, brightly colored pants from Madras, the feeling of expectation was enormous. When Chögyam Trungpa arrived for his talk, it was a bit of an anticlimax. His reputation preceded him, but nothing prepared me for his unholiness. So strong was my urge to learn, however, that I set aside my hopes of hearing choirs of angels rejoicing in his presence. At some point during that talk, he said that the spiritual path only really begins when you experience nausea with yourself, nausea with samsara. “Real nausea,” he said, making clear that it was not a metaphor. As far as I’m concerned, he was the first person to tell me the whole truth, and he seemed not the least bit concerned if it didn’t conform to what the paying customers expected.

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Thursday
Dec012005

Just These Two Things: Mind and Matter

In Mahasi Sayadaw’s book To Nibbana via the Noble Eightfold Path, he wrote,

At the beginning of the stage where concentration becomes strong enough for the mental hindrances to disappear, when purity of mind begins to arise, one comes to know, or see distinctly, the matter that is noted and the mind that notes. When one notes rising, one knows clearly that what rises is one thing and what notes the rising is another. When one notes falling, one knows that what falls is one thing and what notes the falling is another. In the same way when noting lifting, stepping, and putting down while walking, one knows clearly that what is noted is one thing and what notes is another. In this way, one distinctly knows the matter which is known and the mind which notes. And that knowing is not by imagining, but it is distinct and clear understanding through just observing without imagining.

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Thursday
Dec012005

Going Solo

When I was in my twenties, with a handful of sesshins under my belt, I decided to do a meditation retreat on my own. It seemed like a good idea; after all, I had a dedicated daily practice, knew the sesshin schedule by heart, and wanted to save some money. So while my parents took a vacation, I spent seven days alone in the suburban house I had grown up in, ignoring the phone and doorbell, trying to recreate our practice at the monastery.

The retreat was a dud. I read and slept more than I wanted and meditated less. I can recall only one insight from those seven days: I’m not ready to do a retreat on my own.

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Thursday
Dec012005

Tendrel

The Tibetan term tendrel, or, more fully, ten ching drelwar jungwa, describes the nature of phenomena and how they relate to each other. It has connotations that are both mathematical and magical, and is a principle that plays a key role in all three levels of view and practice in Tibetan Buddhism: Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana.

Ten means “to depend” and drel means “connection” or “relationship.” So tendrel means that all phenomena come into being (jungwa) through a dependent relationship with other phenomena. As the Buddha famously stated, “In dependence on this, that arises.”

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Thursday
Sep012005

The Kind of Guru I Had

My grandmother’s eldest son, Samten Gyatso, was my root guru and ultimate refuge. He was also, of course, my uncle. I feel a bit shy telling stories about him, because I don’t want to sound as if I’m indirectly praising myself by lauding a family member. A disciple who emphasizes signs of accomplishment, clairvoyant abilities, and miraculous powers in stories about his own guru, may—instead of honoring him—end up discrediting him. Yet though he was a relative, there is no way I can avoid praising him. I don’t mean to be crude, but I’m related to him like excrement is related to fine cuisine.

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Thursday
Sep012005

Preserving a Master’s Memories

How would you describe Tulku Urgyen to the world at large?

Erik Pema Kunsang: Tulku Urgyen, you could say, was a profound mystic and a unique kind of philosopher, one who could guide people toward a type of insight that goes beyond theory and concepts. Observing how easily and naturally he worked with others, you could deduce what Tulku Urgyen himself experienced on a daily basis. Most of us would view his area of expertise—pointing out what things look like from the awakened point of view—as being very heavy and difficult. Yet, he made it extremely accessible. You practically weren’t allowed to leave the room until you agreed just how easy it was to see things from the awakened point of view. You couldn’t just nod your head in agreement, either. You actually had to experience that ease for yourself.

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Thursday
Sep012005

Not by Ourselves

For the past two hundred years in Japanese Soto Zen, the understanding of most teachers has been that shikantaza, literally translated as “just sitting,” was Dogen Zenji’s essential practice. In accord with this mainstream understanding, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi established shikantaza as our essential practice at the San Francisco Zen Center. A great deal of his teaching was intended to help us understand what it means to practice just sitting in its true sense. He also told us that his main job as a Zen priest was to encourage people to practice just sitting.

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Thursday
Sep012005

Forum: The Lojong Mind Training Practices

Compassion, it would appear, is easier said than done. All the world’s great spiritual traditions exhort us to be kind, and yet to judge by the state of our world, genuine compassion is rare. We have plenty of great thoughts about compassion, but how much are we actually doing about it moment by moment, day by day?

A system of practices that would upset our usual way of doing things and encourage compassion would seem to be in order. In fact, without such practices, a tradition like Buddhism, committed as it is to meditation, might easily lead to a private striving for peace, and many of us who practice Buddhism might easily fall into the trap of self-perfection.

Apparently Buddhist practitioners from long ago experienced this very problem, and at some point, a system developed within the Mahayana tradition to counteract ego’s tendency to convert whatever it encounters into its own territory. Like a family of viruses, this system of teachings, known in Tibetan as lojong, or mind training, attacks ego’s immune system and the myriad defenses it throws up to prevent us from experiencing a moment of openness and warmth.

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