I was born in 1964—the last “official” year of the baby boom. I have found that, in many ways, I straddle a line between baby boomers and Generation X. When boomer Buddhists speak of first encountering the dharma, I am always fascinated by their stories because it was all was so new. The great teachers arriving in the United States for the first time, the first dharma centers—there always seems to be a spirit of looseness to the stories, a spirit that now seems to be missing. Perhaps that looseness was a product of the optimistic spirit of the era. To the post-boomer, it was already being dismissed as impractical by the time maturity came knocking.
The haunted dominion of the mind, says Dzigar Kongtrül Rinpoche, in none other than the dominion of self-clinging. If our goal is to free ourselves from the fear and endless insecurities that haunt us, then we must cut through self-clinging by cultivating the view of emptiness.
In old Tibet, practitioners went to charnel grounds, springs, haunted houses, haunted trees, and so on, in order to reveal how deeply their practice had cut to the core of their fears and attachments. The practice of cutting through our deepest attachments and fears to their core is called nyensa chödpa. Nyensa chödpa means “cutting through the haunted dominion of mind.” It is not that I am encouraging you to go to these haunted places to test yourself, but it’s important for all practitioners to understand the view behind nyensa chödpa, because until we are challenged we don’t know how deep our practice can go.
Teachings from the Book of Rinzai: The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Rinzai, from the new English translation by Eido Shimano Roshi.
In Rinzai Roku (The Book of Rinzai), there is a saying that goes, All of them depend on grasses and leaves, like ghosts who cling to bamboo and trees. This refers to evil spirits, but also to those who go through their lives without knowing what to do. It seems to me that modern society is producing such people one after the other, while they themselves are not even aware of it. I suspect that Muishitsu Eido Roshi, the abbot of Dai Bosatsu Zendo in America was motivated by this recent phenomenon to take on the challenge of translating Rinzai Roku into English [The Book of Rinzai: The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Rinzai (Linji), Zen Studies Society, 2005]. While guiding his monks and lay students, after many years of struggle, at last this project is completed.
A Teisho by Eido Shimano Roshi on Rinzai and his Zen
Followers of the Way: People say, “There is a Way to practice, there is a Dharma to realize.” What Dharma would you realize and what Way would you practice? What is lacking in your activity right now? What is there to be fixed? Young, immature practitioners, not knowing this important point, believe in wild fox spirits and listen to all their deceitful teachings. They allow others to be bound by false beliefs, saying, “Principle and practice are in correspondence. The three karmas must be carefully taken care of. Then at last you can attain buddhahood.” Those who preach in this way are as many as the thin drops of spring rain.
A man of old said, “If you meet an outstanding man of the Way on the road, you must not even mention the word ‘Way.’”
A discussion of race, class and education, and how they’re limiting who becomes interested in Buddhism. Featuring Paul Haller, Marlene Jones, Charles Prebish, and Guy McCloskey.
We believe deeply in ourselves as personalities, says Ajahn Sumedho, each committed to the reality of our own personal history and distinctive traits. He offers a meditation to deliberately bring such thoughts to the fore, and notice the uncreated awareness within which they arise.
Most of us are very committed to ourselves as personalities. The habit of viewing ourselves as a person is deeply ingrained in us. In Pali, that is called sakkaya-ditthi, which can be translated as “personality-view” or “the ego.” It means that we regard the five khandhas (groups)—body, feelings, perceptions, conceptions, and consciousness—as belonging to this person, as making up our identity. In investigating the personality-view, we do not grasp on to the perception of “no person” either. It is possible to take the concept of anatta (no self) and grasp that, and say, “There’s no self because the Buddha said there’s anatta!” But in that case we’re still grasping a perception. Grasping a perception of yourself as a nonself gets to be a bit ridiculous.
Sojun Mel Weitsman once asked Suzuki Roshi, “What does it mean to be ordained as a Zen priest?” The answer—“I don’t know”—has been his koan for more than thirty years.
The occasion of a priest ordination always brings up questions about what it means to be ordained. We can look at this by examining what ordination has meant in Zen tradition, and also by considering our practice in the present day.
When I was about to be ordained in 1969, I asked Suzuki Roshi what it meant to be ordained as a priest and what I should do. He said, “I don't know."
Then I asked Katagiri Sensei, and he said, "Oh, I don't know."
I hadn't asked to be ordained. Suzuki Roshi asked me to, and I was quite surprised when he did. I thought that since he asked me, he would at least tell me what to do. But he didn't tell me much. At that time there were few American priests at the San Francisco Zen Center; I was only the fifth person to be ordained. The first one had left the center, two were in Japan, and the fourth was out of sight. So I didn't have any role models, except for our Japanese priests: Suzuki Roshi, Katagiri Sensei, Chino Sensei, and Yoshimura Sensei.
Bethany Saltman talks with Tenzin Palmo about rebirth, merit, and the bodhisattva vow.
Venerable Tenzin Palmo is best known as the British nun who meditated in a Himalayan cave for twelve years, as described in the popular book, Cave in the Snow, by Vicki MacKenzie. Though she left retreat in 1988, she still finds herself describing that solitary life to others, and sometimes defending it. Her one request in granting this interview was: “Please, let’s not talk about the cave.”
Born in London, Tenzin Palmo was drawn to Buddhism from an early age, and in 1964, at age twenty, she sailed to India. There she met her guru, the eighth Khamtrül Rinpoche, and became one of the first Western women to be ordained in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
By Susan Moon
I’ve been a Zen practitioner for thirty years. Ten years ago I was in a deep depression. If I sat down to meditate, demons took advantage of the opportunity to torment me, until I could no longer stand the pain. More than once I fled from the zendo, drove to the woods, and ran wailing through the trees.
I was afraid to be alone. If I had a car trip that was more than a half-hour long, I had to stop at a pay phone to call someone who could reassure me that I existed. I had no self, but it didn’t feel a bit like enlightenment.
To my great disappointment, my longtime meditation practice wasn’t helping me, and I stopped sitting zazen altogether. The depression continued in bouts for several years.
I was ill, and I got better. Now I sit regularly, both with my sangha and at home. I’m often restless and distracted, but I’m grateful to be alive. I enjoy solitude, as well as the company of others. I’m no longer bewitched. What’s more, I often feel—I’ll come right out and say it—happy.
Depression is violent and merciless. For anyone who has struggled with serious depression, the idea that it could possibly serve as an incentive to meditate is to grossly misunderstand just how debilitating major depression is. The constant barrage of negative thoughts seem to form an unbearable “helmet of doom,” and it is simply not possible to become curious about these thoughts and wish to explore them, as is often suggested for meditation practice. There is simply no space and no ground for this kind of practice in depression.
Because there is so much emphasis on the mind in Buddhism, there is a tendency to believe that if you cannot overcome your negativity, you must not be doing something right. If I could only meditate properly! If I could only spend more time at it! These laments are just variations of the same loop of negative thinking. People who imagine there is a bottom to “hit” before one can get better do not know that depression is a bottomless pit. There is no bottom to the dark. The worst of it is that you just keep falling.