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Monday
Dec012003

Readers' Essays

There are some gung-ho Zen students who disparage therapy and think that going to a therapist is a weakness. I used to be intimidated by such people but now I feel quite ready to take them on, as I watch them one by one falling into their own karmic traps. It's easy to find numerous Zen students—and teachers—who have ongoing unresolved psychological issues. And that can make us doubt what we're doing.

My teacher, Zen Master Seung Sahn, said once, “If your direction is clear, then you can use any technique to help your practice.” I've personally found psychoanalytic therapy helpful in clarifying karmic issues that weren't being addressed by my Zen practice. And having a therapist who isn't a Buddhist has forced me to bring my practice to the marketplace. I can't just repeat dharmic clichés and expect them to be taken as truth.

Without therapy, my practice was stuck. But I couldn't have survived the rigors of therapy without my practice. On the other hand, therapy by itself could never have given me the direction for my life that I got from my teacher.

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Monday
Dec012003

Dharma Dictionary: Moktak

Defined by Chong Hae Sunim and Master Seung Sahn

The sound of the moktak is an important part of Korean temple life. This simple hollow wooden percussion instrument is the first sound heard in the morning, calling everyone to the Buddha Hall for morning practice. It is also used throughout the day during ceremonies and daily chanting; it rolls down to signal the bows during the rubato melody of the Homage to the Three Jewels and keeps the tempo during the Heart Sutra, 10,000 Eyes and Hands Sutra and Kwan Se Um Bosal chanting.

Unlike the Chinese and Japanese versions, which are ornately carved and usually sit on a cushion on the floor, the Korean moktak has a simpler form and is usually hand-held. The Korean word moktak has two parts: mok means wood and tak means hit. Originally, however, because the instrument looks like a fish with its mouth open, the Chinese word was muyu. Mu means wood and yu means fish.

One legend about the origin of the moktak tells of a naughty monk who died and was reborn as a fish. A big tree subsequently grew out of his back, which caused him a great deal of pain. One day, his former teacher saw him swimming in a river and recognized him. The fish begged his teacher to remove the tree and carve a fish-shaped instrument from it. The master did so and since then the sound of the moktak has inspired people whenever it is played in the temple.

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Monday
Sep012003

Free from Mind, Discrimination and Consciousness

Master Sheng-yen is abbot of the Nung Ch’an monastery in Taiwan and founder of Dharma Drum Mountain, which includes the Ch’an Meditation Center in New York City and Dharma Drum Retreat Center in Pine Brush, New York. The interview was conducted during a ten-day silent illumination retreat led by Master Sheng-yen. The interviewer was Michael Liebenson Grady, a guiding teacher at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center who has been studying with Master Sheng-yen for the past five years. The translator was Jimmy Yu.

Michael Liebenson Grady: We have heard you make the distinction between buddhadharma and Buddhism. Could you say more about that?

Master Sheng-yen: In buddhadharma, there is only one taste, the taste of liberation. That is the one dharma. Buddhism, on the other hand, is a manifestation of causes and conditions according to the changing environment that the buddhadharma encounters and the disposition of its practitioners. According to varying conditions and changing times, there arises what is known as Buddhism.

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Monday
Sep012003

There Is No "I" Who Is Sitting

When you first practice the Ch’an method of silent illumination, it is very simple. You just sit with the awareness that you are sitting. However, as your practice deepens, the method changes to where there is no method to speak of, even as you continue in the state of silent illumination. The silent aspect is achieved when wandering thoughts no longer trouble you. Illumination comes with being acutely aware of what is happening, even as your mind is silent. As your practice deepens you no longer need to remind yourself to stay on the method. You are just constantly in the state of silent illumination. In this sense, silent illumination becomes a method of no-method.

When you first take up the practice, you still have wandering thoughts, but you are clearly aware of them. The way to deal with them is simply to keep your focus on your awareness that you are sitting. Just stay with that awareness that you are sitting. But isn’t this thought that you are sitting itself a wandering thought? Yes, it is. The difference is that this particular wandering thought, “I am sitting,” goes in one direction only, has continuity and is constant and consistent in nature. Other wandering thoughts scatter in all sorts of directions, change all the time and have no consistency. They vary widely in nature, content and quality. At first glance they seem to have something to do with you, but on closer examination they are unrelated stuff thrown together like garbage.

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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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