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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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Monday
Sep012003

Celibacy and the Awareness of Sexuality

If I look at the experiences that have reappeared in my journey, I can see that over the years there have been times of intense pleasure, strong energy, deep pain, suffering, profound fear, transcendent joy and the stillness of a peaceful heart. These experiences have been both the gateway for and the result of much learning. This entire range has also been part of my experience of sexuality, which is the theme I'd like to explore. In particular, I want to discuss the connection between the experience of sexuality with aggression, on the one hand, and loving-kindness on the other. We need to understand both these aspects of sexuality, whether we are celibate or not, as part of our endeavor to awaken to the full human condition.

For more than twenty years most of my dhamma teachers have been men. Occasionally, there have been some very bold, insightful, sensitive dhamma teachers who have talked about sexuality in language that I have been able to relate to and understand. I've felt grateful for their courage and compassion in bringing light and clarity into these deep waters. But when I was a laywoman I also heard dhamma talks describing sexuality in ways that I could not relate to; that is, describing sexuality as dominance, objectification and raw attraction to physical attributes driven by a desire for gratification—all devoid of affection and genuine respect.

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Monday
Sep012003

Forum: Working with Sense Pleasures

When we asked our panelists, "What is the essence of the Buddhist approach to renunciation and sensuality?" their answers began with a position that all Buddhist sects hold in common: that the dharma is the "middle way" between extremes of harsh asceticism and headlong indulgence in sensuality. This is the expression the Buddha originally used to distinguish his path from that of his Hindu teachers. When Gautama Shakyamuni first decided to try to free himself from a world that had sickness, old age and death as its inevitable result, he followed the advice of his teachers and tried to separate himself in meditation practice from his senses—to still his thoughts, kill his emotions, and destroy his body's desire for material things. At a certain point he abandoned this approach as ineffective and invented a new style of moral restraint that charted a middle way between the extremes of harsh rejection of the phenomenal world and sensory indulgence in it.

Buddhadharma: Bhante Piyananda, in your book Saffron Days In L.A., you quote several verses from the Dhammapada:

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Monday
Sep012003

America has Zen all the time. Why, my Teacher, should I meddle?

From Like A Dream, Like a Fantasy: The Zen Writings and Translations of Nyogen Senzaki, with an introduction by Eido Shimano Roshi, published this fall by PeaceWorks Publications.

Buddha’s Birthday Celebration

April 11, 1948

The name of Buddha is quite common among Americans and a statue of Buddha is kept in many American homes. Is it not strange to say, however, that very few Americans know who Buddha really was? And most Americans do not know what Buddhism is and what it has to do with this modern civilization of ours. Some say Buddha is a Japanese god. Some say Buddhism is and ancient teaching of India and that it has nothing to do with the current of thought in our age. They are all wrong. Buddha is neither a Japanese god nor an Indian god. We Buddhists do not worship anything. Buddhism is a teaching of enlightenment, an intellectual religion which will bring us all from delusions to realization, from suffering to peace, from the imprisonment of passions and desires to the freedom of utmost wisdom and loving-kindness. Is it not the most reliable religion of this age of free thinking and practicality?

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Monday
Sep012003

The Complete Practice

We touch down in Kathmandu in the afternoon. To my great relief, the monk Phuntsok is there to greet me. He negotiates a taxi ride to Swayambu on the opposite side of the city and off we go, cutting through the suburb of Thamel, which is loud, animated and chaotic. We pass dark-skinned women in saris, thick black hair reaching down below their waists; chickens, goats, dogs, cows on the roads; trash everywhere; warm whiffs of rotting somethings; thin men in Newari caps; children all over the place. There is friendly noise, vibrant colors, bright flowers, hazy sky. I'm thrilled.

Phuntsok shows me to the top-floor room they've found for me close to Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche's house. It’s pleasant indeed, with windows on three walls, mosquito netting, a terrace outside and a cold water shower and toilet all to myself. Water is piped in from the mountains and tastes good. It’s a luxury by Nepali standards, even if flushing means picking up a big bucket of water and slopping it in the toilet.

I first met Sherab Gyaltsen Rinpoche in France a couple of years ago. I found him powerfully inspiring, and when I saw him again last summer I asked if I could visit his centers in Nepal. I was honored with an invitation to stop in at his home before going to practice at his nuns' monastery in the hills.

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Monday
Sep012003

Emptiness / Buddhanature

The Buddhist schools are rich and varied in their perspectives, but these many points of view all advance the Buddhist concept of the middle view (madhya-drshti in Sanskrit and ume tawa in Tibetan).

The middle view avoids the extremes of eternalism and nihilism. Any view that does not fall into the parameters of the middle view—in other words, all views that fall into the extremes of eternalism or nihilism—are referred to as wrong views in Buddhist literature. The Buddha and his subsequent followers have called these wrong views because the nihilistic view minimizes what is there in reality, while the eternalistic view adds more to reality than what is really there.

Adherents of all Buddhist schools try to understand everything about themselves—their consciousness, the material world, sentient life, their karmic inheritance and its history, even rebirth or reincarnation—in terms of this middle view. In the Mahayana tradition, the establishment of the middle way is also an aspect of one’s own practice, because the Buddhist adherent steers a course between the two extremes to cultivate the two wisdoms: transcendental knowledge (Skt., prajna) and wisdom/gnosis (Skt., jnana).

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Monday
Sep012003

The Thing about Relationships...

By Kate Wheeler

At about seven o'clock each morning, I do a practice that makes me grateful for the Buddhist teachings. Pushing aside the panting puppy who stands beside the bed, that hairy alarm clock who wants me to feed and entertain him, I lie flat on my back for a minute or two and try to come to my senses. I acknowledge as deeply as possible the nature of this day, this moment, and the complex, beloved human being who's still asleep beside me. “You could be me,” I tell him silently, “I could be you. Being is indistinguishable from beings. Same goes for the dog, for everyone. May all of us be happy and free.”

Within minutes (or as soon as my partner wakes up), I'll be swept up in irritation, lust, secretive self-righteousness. I save some of my most pungent delusions just for him—for example, why does he always want things from me I do not want to give? Yet because I began the day with reflection and also because I've trained for years in retreat, it's getting easier to climb back into the present moment and to drop whatever prejudice is gnawing my brain and driving my behavior. The transparent heart of things shines out, making it easier to feel what I need to feel and to negotiate choices less confined by selfishness and fear.

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Monday
Sep012003

Ask the Teachers

Q: In Zen Master Hakuin's Chant in Praise of Zazen, he says:

And if we turn inward and prove our True-nature—
that True-self is no-self,
our own Self is no-self—  we go beyond ego and past clever words.

My question is, if there is no self, who is it that keeps getting reincarnated? Doesn’t the idea of reincarnation imply that there is some integrated thing or self that can be referred to as existing, and which passes from one life to the next?

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Monday
Sep012003

Reader essays

I met my husband twenty-five years ago when he was a Buddhist monk. We were both full of enthusiasm for the traditional Rinzai practice in which we were intensely involved. We entered the relationship carrying a load of personal baggage and, unfortunately for us, practice offered little help in navigating our personal intimacy. It was all empty—except off the cushion. There, it was a catastrophe and full of drama.

At the time, there were many unethical goings-on happening in a number of monasteries and training centers, and we, like many others, left our community feeling betrayed and confused. We went on with our lives, staying together through determination and sheer luck. We became professionals, had two children, and got lots of therapy. Both of us yearned for what we had once tasted with practice, but we did not know how to find it again.

Eventually we stumbled into the community where we now practice as a couple and as a family. Here our teachers offer the teaching of “seamless practice”: there is no separation between the zafu, the dining room, the bathroom or the bedroom. Our children are our koans, as is our marriage. Our teachers and the monastics provide examples of how to make practice alive everywhere.

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Monday
Sep012003

Dharma Dictionary: “Nibbida”

Defined by Andrew Olendzki

So there you are, happily reading the primary texts of early Buddhism in order to better understand the essential teachings of the Buddha. You get to the part that talks about a person practicing in accordance with the dhamma—knowing things directly as they really are and seeing what is impermanent as impermanent with right view. Your head is nodding in affirmation, “Yeah, that’s me all right.” Then all of a sudden you get to the next sentence: “Therefore, one should abide in the utter disgust for the aggregates” [i] (Woodward’s translation).

“Whoa! Wait a minute. What’s up with that?” You think there must be something wrong here. How can the intimate awareness of moment-to-moment phenomena, the opening to states just as they are, lead to such a yucky response? We all know the monks and nuns are encouraged to contemplate death, the disintegration of the body in cemeteries, and other such, well, monastic things. But surely a lay Buddhist vipassana practitioner (for example) deserves a more positive outlook on life from all this mindful, conscious awareness.

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Sunday
Jun012003

Never Born, Never Ceasing

The great pandit Shantarakshita, who was instrumental in transplanting Buddhism from India to Tibet, promised that one of his students would come one day to complete his work. Kamalasila (Tib., Padampa Sangye) fulfilled this prophecy, making three trips to Tibet during the eleventh century. This was the time when the great yogi Milarepa lived, and his autobiography describes a momentous dharma debate between the two teachers.

The story behind the teaching presented here begins when Padampa Sangye throws a stone magically bestowed upon him by the Buddha, saying that he would teach wherever it landed. The stone landed in the village of Tingri, in Tibet, and true to his word, Padampa Sangye founded his monastic seat there and proclaimed The Hundred Verses of Advice to the villagers.

Translator Matthieu Ricard requested that his teacher, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910-1991), considered an emanation of Padampa Sangye, offer a commentary on these pithy verses. A renowned Dzogchen master, Khyentse Rinpoche spent most of his early life in solitary retreat in mountain caves. He studied and taught tirelessly for many decades, influencing scores of teachers and thousands of students. He made several important teaching tours to Europe and North America and his works have been translated into many Western languages. In his final years, he was head of the Nyingma lineage.

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