READER SERVICES
Buddhadharma News
STAY CONNECTED


Follow Buddhadharma on Facebook.

Find or promote a Buddhist-inspired event at our online Calendar.

Click here to subscribe to the Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma email newsletter.

ASK THE TEACHERS

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

Answer here.

Submit a question

Community Profiles

 

Search
Wednesday
Sep012004

Eyes Are Horizontal, Nose Is Vertical, Where Is Your Problem?

    A monk asked Yakusan Igen-zenji, “I have a problem. Would you please solve it for me?”
    Yakusan said, “Come in the evening. I will solve your problem.”
    That evening, all the monks gathered in the Dharma Hall. Yakusan addressed them: “Is there anyone here who needs to solve a problem?”
    The monk approached Yakusan. Yakusan descended the platform, seized him and said, “Everybody, look at him! He has a problem!” Yakusan pushed the monk away and returned to his quarters.

    Genro’s comment:
    What Yakusan did seems rough, but if you examine his action carefully, his answer was perfectly matching. Even if all the buddhas of the three worlds came out, not one could change it. Why is this so? This monk has a problem. If he cannot solve it by himself, let him look at the peak of the mountain where clouds are floating. Let him look at the river where the water is rushing quickly.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Sep012004

In the Natural Readiness of Time

Eido Roshi has been continuously at the center of Buddhism in America—watching it, helping it grow—longer than any other living person. He has taught Zen to Americans for almost half a century, and so it is not surprising he takes a long view of how American Buddhism, to which he has devoted his life, will come to be. Not for him our impatience to “spread the dharma.” For Eido Roshi, the development of a genuine Buddhist tradition in the West must be natural and slow—centuries long, even. But to doubt that it will happen, he says, or to rush or strategize it, is to show a lack of trust in the dharma. I was joined in this discussion by Peter Turner, president of Shambhala Publications, someone who also thinks deeply about Buddhism’s future. Our conversation with Eido Roshi changed my understanding of the task before Buddhists in the West in a way that is both a joy and a relief.

—Melvin McLeod

Buddhadharma: As Buddhism has progressed in the West, it has adopted a diversity of forms, some highly adapted to contemporary life, others quite traditional. From your perspective, what is the relationship between the outward forms of Buddhism and its essence?

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Sep012004

The Guru and the Great Vastness

For a follower of the Hinayana or Mahayana paths, there are the sutras and the shastras. The sutras contain the direct teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni, whereas the shastras are commentaries composed later by a disciple of the Buddha, such as Nagarjuna. Moreover, there are instructions on how to practice. For instance, many chapters of Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva contain very clear instructions.

Studying the dharma can be compared to learning how to drive. There is a driving manual that explains what things are, how they work, the rules of the road and so on. Similarly, the sutras and shastras contain the basic knowledge you need in order to practice the dharma. When you actually learn how to drive, you receive personalized instructions based on your individual skills, your driving teacher’s style and the various practical situations you encounter. These are not necessarily presented in the same order as the information in the manual. Instructions can come in most unexpected ways.

In Vajrayana, there are the tantras as well as the pith instructions. For centuries, dharma practitioners have studied the tantras while practicing according to the pith instructions. Some students place great emphasis on the tantras, the actual texts which contain the theory of the view. Those who are intellectually or academically oriented can get quite caught up in explanations and theories. Other students who are more emotionally oriented tend to get caught up in the instructions. This was a common fault in the past and continues to be so today.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Sep012004

Forum: Is Your Practice Working?

I was twenty-two when I decided I was a Buddhist. This year is the thirtieth anniversary of that moment of epiphany. What have I got to show for it?

By some standard I’ve worked hard at being a Buddhist, as have so many of you who are reading this now. I’ve overturned my life several times because of Buddhism, at some pain to myself and others. I went to India and I have done a long solitary retreat. I’ve known a number of great teachers and I’ve had the good fortune for the last ten years to read dharma for a living. So after all this, why am I not discernibly different from people who aren’t Buddhists? Why am I so little changed from when I started thirty years ago?

I’m not putting on a hair shirt here. I think that I and the many practitioners I know are decent people, and maybe we have a different and deeper view of life. But do I find my Buddhist friends noticeably more decent, patient, kind and wise than my non-Buddhist friends? I don’t see a lot of difference. I like them all. Which is good. But what does that say about Buddhist practice?

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Sep012004

Cultivate Tranquility, Harvest Insight

Introduction by Bhikkhu Bodhi

In America, Theravada Buddhist meditation is often flatly identified with the practice of vipassana, even to the extent that those who practice within this tradition speak of themselves as vipassana meditators. However, the Pali suttas, the ancient records of the Buddha’s discourses, do not treat vipassana as an autonomous system of meditation but as a member of two paired meditative skills called shamatha and vipassana, tranquility and insight. Far from being opposed, in the suttas tranquility and insight are held to be complementary aspects of mental cultivation which, to yield the proper fruits of the Buddhist path, must eventually be yoked and harmonized.

According to their aptitude and disposition, meditators will develop these two qualities in different temporal sequences. One important source (Anguttara Nikaya, The Fours, sutta 170) states that some develop tranquility first and insight afterwards; others develop insight first and tranquility afterwards; and still others develop tranquility and insight in close conjunction. While most teachers of Theravada meditation in the West have leaned towards the second of these models, in the Buddha’s own discourses it is the first that predominates, and this model also forms the scaffolding for the classical Pali meditation manuals such as the Visuddhimagga (“The Path of Purification”).

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Sep012004

A Pillar of Zen: Roshi Philip Kapleau 1912 - 2004

My Zen teacher, Roshi Philip Kapleau, died peacefully on May 6 at the venerable age of 91. Several days later, many of us who had known him and been with him for more than thirty years gathered for his burial at the Chapin Mill Retreat Center, the country property of the Rochester Zen Center. Some who were there had since found other teachers and other teachings, or had simply taken other directions in life than the path of Zen. All of us, though, felt a deep gratitude and love that no words can express.

Each person there seeed to find that at bottom they owed this man so much. He had opened the gate of practice, and his immense love of the dharma had saved us from deeply painful lives. The Three Pillars of Zen—the now classic work that brought him into the public eye and led him to found the first Zen center in America headed by a Westerner—was published in 1965 when the world was in chaos, the Vietnam War still on. Most of us were only in our early twenties, and somewhat crazed. He stood at an ancient door, held it open wide, and said to us simply, ‘Come in. Work hard. The dharma will never let you down.’

Roshi’s dying and death occurred outdoors, beneath the new-leaved trees in the backyard of the Rochester Zen Center, where some thirty years earlier he and a cadre of quite unskilled laborers had built this center from a burnt-out shell of a building. (He liked to say in those early days, ‘We specialize in burnt-out buildings and people.’)

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Sep012004

Dogo Expresses Condolences

“One day in the neighborhood of Dogo’s Temple of Chang-chou, death occurred in a certain home and Zen Master Dogo took his disciple Zengen to express their condolences to the family.” During the visit Zengen tapped the coffin and asked, “Is he alive or dead?”

What is Zengen really asking? Obviously he knows that the person in the coffin is dead. So what is his real question? Perhaps it is, What happens after death? or What is death? or What will happen to me after I die? or Is there really death? or If he lies here, dead, what is the Deathless? Perhaps his deep concern—for it is a heartfelt question, as his subsequent actions will prove—grew from, or was intensified by, reciting the Heart Sutra: “None are born or die. Nor are they stained or pure, nor do they wax or wane. There is no withering nor death, nor end of them.” What does that mean, really? We chant those profound words daily, as do Zen practitioners everywhere. Well, what do they mean?

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Sep012004

Who Me?

“Do you want to teach?”

This wasn’t an offer but a question about my aspirations. I was at a restaurant with a small group of Buddhists, and if there is such a thing as a spiritual resume, I had, in a meandering way, just given mine: sitting for over twenty years, practicing according to different traditions, and eventually committing to the method of vipassana taught by S.N. Goenka, which I wrote a book about. For some, teaching would be the next step.

“No,” I said. “I have too many flaws.”

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Jun012004

Breaking Life Down to Its Parts

Plunging into the Target

Mindfulness has to stick to the object of meditation. It has to reach it, and stick into it. There is a Pali phrase that describes this: okatittova pavattati. It means “plunging into the target.”

Mindfulness should be pakkandana, meaning “hastily speeding” or “hurriedly rushing” toward the object. As soon as an object arises, one has to note it hastily. It is necessary to use very good aiming and very good effort, since an object arises right now and it also vanishes right now. No sooner has it arisen than it disappears. So you have to catch up and follow it as closely as possible. Nothing else matters. There is no time for anything else, especially not for thinking. There is no time to ask why, what and how. Otherwise the mind will not reach the object but miss it.

Early on, mindfulness has no speed. But when it plunges into the object, some speed is gathered. For regular meditators, the speed of mindfulness gradually increases over the course of time. If you have gaps of unmindfulness, if you have the habit of taking little breaks and rests, you have to learn how to increase the continuity.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Jun012004

Pure Dharma, Barefoot Dharma

In 1979, I had the privilege of interpreting for His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his visit to Greece. During that stay, we dropped by a small Tibetan Buddhist dharma center, recently founded by the eminent Kagyü lama Kalu Rinpoche. His students’ enthusiasm and great reverence for him compensated for their limited background in Buddhism. But they were troubled. Kalu Rinpoche had encouraged them to complete the standard set of five preliminary practices (ngöndro), including such practices as 100,000 ritual offerings of the mandala, before venturing into more advanced practices. But, as they reported to the Dalai Lama, they didn’t really understand the nature or purpose of these preliminaries, and they were resistant to doing them. What to do?

His Holiness responded that these five practices were preliminary to Vajrayana Buddhism, but they were not preliminary to Buddhist practice as a whole. It was important, he counseled them, first to gain a sound understanding of the Four Noble Truths. Following that, they could develop a sense of renunciation by fathoming the reality of suffering, a spirit of enlightened altruism (bodhichitta) as they pondered the vulnerability of all beings to grief and pain, and finally, insight into the nature of ultimate reality. Developing these aspects of one’s experience, he said, was the foundation for Vajrayana Buddhism, and once that was established, they could proceed to the five preliminary practices and all that follows.

Click to read more ...