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Q: How do we retain passion in life and still follow the teaching that we should accept all of life with equanimity?

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Wednesday
Dec012004

The Benefits of Walking Meditation

At our meditation retreats, yogis practice mindfulness in four different postures. They practice mindfulness when walking, when standing, when sitting and when lying down. They must sustain mindfulness at all times in whatever position they are in.

The primary posture for mindfulness meditation is sitting with legs crossed. But because the human body cannot tolerate this position for many hours without changing, we alternate periods of sitting meditation with periods of walking meditation. Since walking meditation is very important, I would like to discuss its nature, its significance, and the benefits derived from its practice.

The practice of mindfulness meditation can be compared to boiling water. If one wants to boil water, one puts the water in a kettle, puts the kettle on a stove, and then turns the heat on. But if the heat is turned off, even for an instant, the water will not boil, and if one continues to turn the heat on and off, the water will never boil. In the same way, if there are gaps between the moments of mindfulness, one cannot gain momentum, and so one cannot attain concentration. That is why yogis at our retreats are instructed to practice mindfulness all the time that they are awake—from the moment they wake up in the morning until they fall asleep at night. Consequently, walking meditation is integral to the continuous development of mindfulness.

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Wednesday
Dec012004

A Zen Demonstration

It is enlightenment nature.

Above is the dwelling place of all buddhas.

Below are the six realms of existence.
One by one, each thing is complete.
One by one, each thing has it.
It and dust interpenetrate.
It is already apparent in all things.
So, without cultivation, you are already complete—
Understand, understand.
Clear, clear.

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Wednesday
Dec012004

Love Letters Sent by the Wind

“A single night of love is better than a hundred thousand years of sterile meditation,” he wrote. The life and poetry of Ikkyu, from Wild Ways: Zen Poems of Ikkyu, translated by John Stevens and published by White Pine Press.

Ikkyu, born as the sun rose on the first day of 1394, was rumored to have been sired by the emperor Gokomatsu. His mother, a member of the influential Fujiwara clan, had been one of Gokomatsu’s attendants at court, but she had been slandered by the empress and subsequently ousted from the palace prior to Ikkyu’s birth.

Being in such difficult circumstances, Ikkyu’s mother was obliged to send him at age five to Ankoku-ji, a Rinzai temple in Kyoto, to be raised by the monks. The precocious little acolyte quickly distinguished himself at the monastery, attaining renown at an early age for both his keen mind and his impish behavior.

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Wednesday
Dec012004

Forum: Translating the Dharma

In this panel we get a rare glimpse of Buddhist translators talking shop. Although they are essential to the life of the religion, translators usually stay in the background, part of the unseen foundation of Buddhism. Most translators do not even put their names on their writing, for they are simply part of a committee. Could anybody name, for example, a member of the committee that translated the King James Bible, the most successful translation in history, which worked so well as a basis for Christianity in English that it shaped the development of the English language itself? And yet there is in most Buddhist cultures a special place of honor reserved for translators when they emerge from their quiet places. The Tibetans give a title, lotsawa, to their top translators and support them often with royal patronage.

Buddhist translators tend to think of themselves in historical context. They know that eventually the entire corpus of Indian or Chinese or Tibetan or whateverBuddhism will have to be transferred to English. This is a complex and multi-generational job, but it has to be done, as it has always been done in the past as Buddhism entered new cultures. Most people have come to know Buddhism through translations.

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Wednesday
Dec012004

In Translation: The View of the Conquerors

The Great Image is the biography of the great Tibetan translator Vairotsana1, one of the earliest translators of tantric texts from Sanskrit into Tibetan and an important figure in the Nyingma tradition, the oldest of the four schools of Buddhism in Tibet. Recorded by his foremost disciples, this biography contains not only the details and events of Vairotsana’s life, but also the history of the Ati Yoga (Dzogchen) doctrine in general and the historical background of the Buddhist doctrine in detail, including how it appeared in the celestial and human realms through the mind lineage of the conquerors, the symbol lineage of the vidyadharas, and the hearing lineage of individuals.

This excerpt traces the Dzogchen lineage of the human realm, in India, beginning with Prahevajra (Tib., Garab Dorje), who received the transmission directly from the sambhogakaya buddha Vajrasattva. Brief biographies of each lineage holder precede short spontaneous songs (dohas) through which the teacher transmits the Dzogchen view, followed by the student’s expression of his or her realization.

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Wednesday
Dec012004

Deep in the Present Moment

Born in 1938 to a well-respected family on the Mekong River Delta, Sister Chan Khong learned at a young age the importance of caring for the sick, the hungry and the powerless. Her grandfather told her, “We have no money to leave you, but we bequeath you the merit we have earned from helping people in need.” She first went to help the poor at age 18.

In 1964 Khong, then a twenty-six-year-old biology teacher, helped Thich Nhat Hanh establish an organization to bring medical facilities, school supplies and other essential equipment to war-ravaged rural Vietnam. A few years later she traveled with him to Paris as part of the Buddhist Peace Delegation, trying to influence the peace talks aimed at ending the Vietnam War. Their desire for sanity and peace in the world led to the founding of Plum Village, a retreat center in France. Their sangha now includes major centers in California and Vermont.

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Wednesday
Dec012004

Ask the Teachers

A few years ago I discovered a book called Mind Development by Ven. Phra Tepvisuddhikavi. I began to study and practice its teachings on anapanasatibhavana, mindfulness based on breathing. With my first effort I was able to achieve one-pointedness and the resulting ecstacy (piti) to an intense degree. However I did not maintain a regular practice habit, and usually limited my practice to thirty minutes per session. I now find it more difficult to develop one-pointedness and often fall asleep. What is it that I am doing, or not doing, that I can no longer develop meditation as I had in the beginning? I’ve tried meditation with my eyes open but feel somewhat distracted. I am more interested in the shamatha aspects of the practice. Can you please help me find that one-pointedness that I found so easy at the beginning?

Tulku Thondup: There are two aspects to every Buddhist meditation: letting our mind dwell one-pointedly, like a mountain, when we are focusing on any meditative field, and seeing whatever we are meditating on as it truly is. The first aspect is tranquility (shamatha); the second, insight (vipashyana).

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Wednesday
Dec012004

Awake at Work

Today more people are finding inspiration and fulfillment in their jobs by bringing their spirituality into the workplace. According to Fortune Magazine, seventy-eight percent of Americans feel a need to experience spiritual growth-and half of them say they openly talk about such spiritual needs at work. Christian and Jew, Muslim and Buddhist, more of us are seeking answers to fundamental spiritual questions, not just in the church or on the cushion but also on the job: What is “right livelihood”? What “spiritual values” should an employer support? Can I bring my spiritual priorities and insights to work or should I keep them to myself?

Each spiritual tradition answers these questions with its own unique blend of wisdom, heart and social responsibility. Yet, is there something that distinguishes a Buddhist approach in answering these questions? What does the meditative tradition of Buddhism offer in our quest to find spiritual fulfillment at work?

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Wednesday
Dec012004

Forum Essays

Whether or not one’s work constitutes right livelihood often has more to do with the way in which one performs the work, rather than with the work itself.

As a lawyer, this is particularly true for me. Every day I am presented with opportunities to practice my profession in a manner rooted in greed, intolerance, impatience and anger. As a Buddhist I have had to ask myself whether it is possible to be a successful lawyer while practicing right livelihood at the same time. For example, when negotiating with a hostile and aggressive attorney, can I get the best result for my client by practicing Buddhist principles such as compassion, or can I only obtain the results my client expects by reacting equally aggressively? Can I pay my staff, let alone support my family, without some level of greed? Can I successfully take a hard-line stance on a position, reacting as though that stance inherently exists, while at the same time acknowledging to myself the empty nature of that position?For me, right livelihood depends on confidence in the Buddhist approach and discipline in following that approach. Although my profession can lead to a livelihood rooted in unwholesome actions, through confidence and discipline it can lead to a livelihood that positively impacts the lives of many people throughout the course of my career.

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Wednesday
Dec012004

Dharma Dictionary: Dokusan

Before dawn, people sit together in the charged stillness of a Zen meditation hall. From a nearby room, the teacher’s hand bell rings. Another bell responds, and the bells talk back and forth. When they fall silent, the bell-ringer calls, “Work in the room!” and one of the meditators immediately rises and sets off for the teacher’s room. Another round of the encounters at the heart of Zen is underway.

In Japanese this is called dokusan, which means going alone to the teacher, and sanzen, going to Zen. As English-speakers, some of us use “work in the room,” another traditional term for these private meetings that are always part of a Zen retreat and that may also happen between retreats. Sanzen styles have varied from school to school and teacher to teacher; the common element is an encounter that goes beyond what’s conceivable. The style described here is one evolving in the West, and because a meeting is by its nature a collaboration, I asked some longtime Zen students for their perspective on the matter and have included their thoughts and some of their words here.

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