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Monday
Mar012004

See the True Nature, then Let Go and Relax in That

Melvin McLeod: Rinpoche, you are one of the leading teachers of Mahamudra, the highest philosophy and practice of the Kagyü school of Tibetan Buddhism. Would you describe the Mahamudra view of the nature of mind?

Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche: In Mahamudra there are three traditions: sutra Mahamudra, mantra Mahamudra and essence Mahamudra.

The sutra tradition of Mahamudra encompasses both the second and third turnings of the wheel of dharma [the teachings on emptiness and buddhanature, respectively]. According to the second turning of the wheel, the true nature of mind is beyond conceptual fabrication. That means it cannot be described as being existent or nonexistent, as being something or nothing, or as being permanent or impermanent. Mind cannot be described or conceptualized in any of these ways: the nature of mind is beyond all conceptual fabrication. Then, according to the third turning of the wheel of dharma, which are the teachings on buddhanature such as the Uttaratantrashastra,[i] the true nature of mind is described as luminous clarity. This is the enlightened essence of the buddhanature, completely free from any stain, completely free from any imperfection or flaw. This luminosity is inseparable from emptiness. So the true nature of mind is described as the union of clarity and emptiness.

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Monday
Mar012004

Buddha Is Right Here

Ignorance and Enlightenment

“There is no difference between buddhas and people, but buddhas understand their ignorance and we are ignorant of enlightenment.” A lecture on the “Genjo Koan,” given at Sokoji Temple, San Francisco, March, 1966.

In observing your practice, I notice it is just a small part of your life. You think it may be better to do something else instead of practicing zazen. But our practice is not like that. It is not one of twenty-four hours.

If I scold you, you may go. If I give you some candy, you will stay. I daresay you are impossible, like a child. You lack the confidence to study Buddhism as a whole life study. You think you can get away from Zen, from this zendo. Actually, once you enter, that’s it. Someday you’ll have to come back. I know that. I tried to get out of it many times, but I couldn’t.

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Monday
Mar012004

A New Vision for Zen Center

San Francisco Zen Center has been a mecca for serious Buddhist practitioners for more than thirty-five years. It operates three renowned practice centers in Northern California and offers community service and outreach programs for prisoners, the homeless and people in recovery. Teachers trained at Zen Center have founded some forty Zen centers and dharma groups around the country. Lectures by its legendary founder, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, continue to be published.

So why did this venerable institution decide that it needed a new vision and strategic plan?

“The main fact about Zen Center is its size and age,” says Norman Fischer, SFZC co-abbot from 1995 to 2000. “A lot of people have been doing Zen there for a long time. It’s the flagship Buddhist institution in the West. Because of this, it’s had to deal with organizational issues that younger, smaller sanghas haven’t, and it’s had a chance to make more mistakes. I wonder what will happen to some of the other Buddhist sanghas in the West when their charismatic founding leaders die.”

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Monday
Mar012004

Forum: Formless Meditation

BUDDHADHARMA: I’d begin by asking each of you to speak about your understanding of formless meditation from the point of view of your tradition. In Zen, for example, formless meditation often goes by the name of shikantaza, or “just sitting.” Reverend Bennage, could you say more about that?

DAI-EN BENNAGE: Yes, we say “just sitting,” but the “just” in “just sitting” doesn’t mean “just” in the usual way. It means thoroughgoing, total sitting. It’s like the feeling you would have if you were riding a horse at an incredible speed and you fell out of the saddle and found yourself between the saddle and the ground. What kind of state of mind would you have there?

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Monday
Mar012004

This Is the Origin, This Is the Cessation

Although most of the Pali Canon has been translated into English, and many of the translations are quite good, there has long been a need for translations available free of charge. After all, the Buddha never charged for his teachings. He taught freely, both as an expression of his own generosity and as a sign of his respect for the priceless value of the dhamma.

In early 1996, John Bullitt asked me to provide a few translations from the canon for his fledgling website, Access to Insight (www.accesstoinsight.org). What began as a casual project quickly grew to a major production as the positive response to the initial translations showed a widespread interest in the Pali discourses. In 2001, the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies offered to print these discourses for free distribution, and so the four-volume set, Handful of Leaves, was born.

I learned my philosophy of translation from my first teacher, Ajaan Fuang Jotiko, who had me translate into English the writings of his teacher, Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo, as a way of supplementing my meditation practice. When I asked him whether the translations should aim at literal accuracy or essential meaning, he replied, “Both.” And in the process of trying to meet both aims, my understanding of the dhamma was forced to stretch and grow.

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Monday
Mar012004

The Art of Being Present

I’ve always thought that making art is like jumping from the edge of a cliff. At the beginning of every new work—and every day of work—is the unknown. Being an artist is being unsure, asking questions, stumbling around with only an inkling of what will manifest and tolerating the fear of hanging out in the unknown. When curiosity and interest become more present than discomfort, the mystery becomes enjoyable and its exploration vivid and vibrant.

Just as in meditation practice, the artist aspires to start fresh, free from past solutions, glories and failures. One begins with emptiness, without a conceptual framework that filters natural impulses, without striving to make a recognizable “product,” simply engaging in a process and getting out of the way of the work.

Each piece presents its own world. Part of making a piece is exploring its principles, listening to what it wants. The sense is that the piece already exists—it’s just a matter of uncovering it.

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Monday
Mar012004

Readers’ Essays

Even though creativity has been a part of my life since my childhood, I was unprepared for the parallel I discovered when I began studying Buddhism. As I became familiar with the practice and methods of developing mindfulness, I found myself recognizing an old friend: drawing.

Like a clear bell tolling a resounding verity, I discovered that the quality of presence I regularly experience in my studio when I am in the process of putting pigment to paper and paint to surface is mindfulness. The true attention that creativity requires—the presence that is pure and undistracted—is the same true attention that the cushion requires. Until I began studying Buddhism, I had never encountered another instance of this beyond the studio. The revelation deepened not only my practice, but also my creativity.

Now I use what naturally comes to me in the studio on the cushion, and extend it (when I’m skillful) into my days and nights. I realize that what is compelling in my work is the same thing that is compelling in my practice; they are one and the same.

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Monday
Mar012004

Dharma Dictionary: Kaji

In the practice of Shingon Buddhism, developed by its Japanese founder Kukai (Kobo Daishi) in the early ninth century, one slowly awakens to the realization that one is not separate from anything in either the phenomenal or non-phenomenal universes. The means of achieving this realization are available to the practitioner, who is generally referred to as a priest, in the form of several thousand highly structured individual practices. Shingon, which means “true word” or “mantra,” uses practices involving hundreds of mantras, mudras and visualizations at deepening levels that are revealed as one’s practice matures. At the heart of all of these is the notion of Honzon Kaji, becoming one with the main deity.

Honzon simply refers to the main deity in any given ritual. Kaji refers to the enhancement of a sentient being’s power through the Buddha’s power (Nyorai-kaji-riki), and it translates the Sanskrit word adhisthana. Sanskrit terms like this came to Japan inscribed in the Siddham, or Brahmini, script, the form of written Sanskrit that was used by priests in India in the fourth to eighth centuries and then later in China and Japan. Understanding the meaning of Siddham syllables was one of the beginning steps taken by Kukai to understand the esoteric teachings in China.

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Monday
Dec012003

Attending to the Deathless

Ajahn Amaro is co-abbot of Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in Redwood Valley, California. He was born in England and trained in the Thai Forest tradition with Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho.

Attending to the Deathless

“When the heart is released from clinging,” said the Buddha, “then consciousness does not land anywhere. That state, I tell you, is without sorrow, afflication or despair.” Ajahn Amaro on abiding in the consciousness that is completely beyond conditioned phenomena—neither supporting them nor supported by them.

A great passage in the suttas (Anguttara Nikaya 3.128) presents an exchange between two of the Buddha's elder monks. Venerable Sariputta is the Buddha's chief disciple, the one most eminent in wisdom and also in meditative accomplishments. Although he had no psychic powers whatsoever, he was the grand master of meditators. The other elder disciple of the Buddha, Venerable Anuruddha, had spectacular psychic powers. He was the one most blessed with "the divine eye"; he could see into all the different realms.

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Monday
Dec012003

The Key to Zen

Sekkei Harada Roshi is abbot of Hosshinji, a Soto Zen monastery in Fukui Prefecture, Japan. This article is adapted from his book, The Essence of Zen, published by Kodansha International, and from several of his teachings published in Hosshinji Newsletter.

A series of short teachings by SekkeiHarada Roshi

Where Is the Way to Achieve Peace of Mind?

Dogen Zenji, the founder of the Soto Zen sect in Japan, defined Zen in the following manner: “Zazen isn’t step-by-step meditation; it is simply the Dharma Gate to peace and joy. It is both the practice and the realization of totally culminated enlightenment.” Step-by-step meditation is to seek for satori, or liberation, at some time in the future. In the Soto Zen sect, the teaching is that Zen itself is satori. Because practice and realization are one, apart from practice there is no realization and within realization there is practice. If you seek to attain some result in the future, then Zen will die. That is why Dogen Zenji says, "Zazen isn't step-by step meditation."

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