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

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 ...

Tuesday
Jun012004

Forum: Understanding Dogen

    Dogen has come a long way. When Zen first got hot in the U.S. during the 1960’s, Dogen was just another obscure Japanese master in the writings of D.T. Suzuki and Alan Watts, and the American version of Dogen’s Soto Zen school was just a handful of kids in San Francisco doing zazen at Sokoji with Shunryu Suzuki. These days, Soto Zen is all over the country and Dogen’s name is all over Amazon (780 hits). Dogen must be by now our most famous Zen master, ranking up there in the pantheon of Buddhist authors with stars like Nagarjuna (664 hits).

    Dogen’s rise to stardom may be partly a function of the spread of his school in America, but his reputation as a Buddhist author goes beyond his status as founder of the Japanese Soto Zen tradition. Like Nagarjuna, and unlike most Zen masters, he is seen as a philosopher. Unlike Nagarjuna and most Zen masters, he is seen as a philosopher with important things to say about Buddhist practice—both how we should think about it and what we should do about it.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Jun012004

Are There Any Who Are Not Beginners?

The essential way flows everywhere; how could it require practice or enlightenment? The essential teaching is fully available; how could effort be necessary? Furthermore, the entire mirror is free of dust; why take steps to polish it? Nothing is separate from this very place; why journey away?

And yet, if you miss the mark even by a strand of hair, you are as far apart from it as heaven from earth. If the slightest discrimination occurs, you will be lost in confusion. You may be proud of your understanding and have abundant realization, or you may have acquired outstanding wisdom and attained the way by clarifying the mind. However, even with high aspirations, if you wander about and get an initial glimpse of understanding, you may still lack the vital path that allows you to leap free of the body.

Observe the example of Shakyamuni Buddha at the Jeta Grove, who practiced upright sitting for six years even though he was gifted with intrinsic wisdom. Still celebrated is the Master Bodhidharma of Shaolin Temple, who sat facing the wall for nine years, although he had already received the mind seal. Ancient sages were like this; who nowadays does not need to practice as they did?

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Jun012004

Does No-Thought Mean No Thought?

In a famous Chan lineage story we hear that the Fifth Patriarch’s leading student, Shen Hsiu, composed a verse that equated practice with continually removing dust. When the illiterate Huineng heard a boy chanting the verse, he composed his own, which ended,

Since all is void,
Where can the dust alight?

For this, he was recognized as the Sixth Patriarch. The void he experienced is wunien, a mind that cannot be defiled by any dust of thought. As a result Huineng (638-713), the illiterate wood-cutter, was probably the first master who taught wunien (thoughtlessness) as the central tenet of Chan Buddhism.

Wunien is reflected in the approach Chan practitioners take in even basic meditation methods, such as counting the breath. The meditator hopes that with continued practice discursive thoughts will subside and therefore regards a state of less discursive thought—or more thoughtlessness—as signifying improvement in meditation practice. Indeed, the word wunien itself would seem to indicate as much. In Chinese, wu means “no,” “without,” “nothing” or “empty of,” and nien refers to “thoughts” or “objects of the mind.” So, taken together, they could be rendered sensibly as “no-thought” or “thoughtlessness.”

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Jun012004

In with the Bad Air, Out with the Good

“Give and Take” mounted on the breath is the magic device
Bringing love, compassion, and the special mind.
To save all beings from this world’s great ocean,
Please bless me to awaken true bodhimind.

From “An Offering Ceremony to the Spiritual Masters” by The First Panchen Lama

As the First Panchen Lama suggests, the practice of tonglen—give and take—is a major way of subduing our self-cherishing, ego-pleasing thoughts. Ego is our biggest obstacle to developing bodhimind. When we try to destroy ego, we are training our mind—the mind that ignores all other people, the one that thinks we are the most important person of all. Once we have been able to destroy our selfish, egoistic thoughts, we begin to act as our true selves and we have a real ability to benefit ourselves and others.

Right now, the ego blocks our capacity to help not only others but also ourselves. We have to understand that we cannot really help anyone until we have learned how to help ourselves. But the ego prevents us from helping ourselves by presenting a false notion of what it really means to help ourselves. What does our ego want?

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Jun012004

The Cho-mos of Ladakh: From Servants to Practitioners

Jan Willis reveals why life is getting better for the nuns of Ladakh.

Tucked away on a high plateau in the far northwest of India lies the dry and windswept region of Ladakh, one of the most beautiful and remote outposts in the Buddhist world. To the east it is bordered by the Himalayas. To the west lies war-troubled Kashmir and Pakistan. From the fifth to the fifteenth century Ladakh was an independent Tibetan kingdom and many Buddhist monasteries were established there.

Modern-day Ladakh—whose population of 160,000 is about evenly divided between Buddhists and Muslims—is still home to many monks and nuns, but for generations nuns have held a grossly inferior position. I first travelled to Ladakh in 1995 to attend the Sakyadhita Conference of Buddhist Women held in its capital city, Leh. I was astounded by the appalling conditions of Ladakh’s nuns, who seemed to be mere helpers for the monks, with no status and no attention being paid to their spiritual path. But on a return visit in July 2003, I was able to see how the work of the Ladakh Nuns Association in the intervening eight years had made it possible for many of Ladakh’s nuns to move away from servitude and towards becoming true spiritual practitioners.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Jun012004

Ask the Teachers

Q: Buddhism says that there are all kinds of beings out there—buddhas, bodhisattvas, deities—but I can't perceive them. Is there something wrong with me? How do I work with this discrepancy? What do I need to do to be able to feel or perceive them? What will it do for me when I can?

Click to read more ...