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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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Monday
Dec012003

Fully Engaged in Body, Speech and Mind

Is there a paradox at work in the dharma? We enter practice because we want something—peace, liberation, openhearted presence. We learn that in order to get these we must do certain things. So we make effort. But we cannot really accomplish what we wish through effort. Effort can even be an obstacle.

We want the most profound, most penetrating, most efficacious practices, and we want them so much and in such habitual ways that we don't always recognize what they are when we have them. Moreover, we tend to want them with our heads, or out of our emotional distress. Certain kinds of wanting prevent our opening to something more profound than ordinary wanting, to the kind of deep longing that makes us truly receptive.

Although this tension is natural, even inevitable, our most vibrant contact with the teachings does not occur through effort or narrow wanting. It comes when we meet the teachings in our body and being with an open heart-mind. We can't actually do anything about this tricky setup. We can, however, sit with it and gradually allow a shift to take place. This shift is not simply a change of ideas but a shift in our being. And practice is crucial for setting this shift in motion, even if practice itself cannot make it happen.

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Monday
Dec012003

Forum: The Importance of Study

The Importance of Study

In the past several decades, Buddhism has captured the popular imagination in the West with the image of a serene Buddha sitting imperturbably in meditation—motionless, silent, free from thought. How popular would the image be if the Buddha were wearing glasses that slid down his nose as he pored over a text to discern its intricate meaning?

All Buddhist traditions agree that the Buddha’s realization is beyond words and books, and yet the Buddha tells us in the Diamond Sutra that untold merit will accrue from memorizing even one stanza from the sutra and sharing it with others. In fact, all Buddhist traditions regard texts as sacred. They all draw on a rich library of sutras, commentaries, biographies, songs, chants, lists and diagrams. The intricate psychological analyses contained in the Abhidharma alone fill many volumes. What is the purpose of these teachings? Is it necessary to study them in order to inform and deepen meditation practice? Can one achieve realization through study alone or, conversely, is it possible to achieve realization without any study at all? Do some people “study Buddhism” while others practice it?

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Monday
Dec012003

Directly Experience the Nature of Mind

Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche is a teacher in the Karma Kagyü lineage. His main residence is his monastery in Boudhanath, Nepal. He is the founder of a monastic college at Namo Buddha near Kathmandu and of many Buddhist centers in the West and Asia.

Instruction on Mahamudra vipashyana meditation by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

The two meditation practices of shamatha and vipashyana each have their place within Mahamudra practice, but they do not have the same objective. Shamatha’s aim is temporary, immediate. When our minds are disturbed or restless, they are not at peace. Cultivating the settled state of shamatha, we find that we are able to be more steady, more tranquil. That is the purpose of shamatha. Shamatha is not sufficient unto itself to attain enlightenment, but it is a support for Mahamudra practice and is therefore imperative.

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Monday
Dec012003

Smells like Teen Spirit

Todd Stein writes about Buddhism, health and travel from his home, conveniently located across the street from the San Francisco Zen Center.

While the search for nirvana remains more Grateful Dead than Nirvana, a number of Buddhist communities are tailoring programs specifically for teens and young adults. As Todd Stein reports, the numbers aren’t large but they’re making a big difference in some young lives.

When the great Burmese vipassana master Sayadaw U Pandita visited the Insight Meditation Society to lead a three-month retreat in the fall of 1989, none of the all adult participants knew that his visit would mark a turning point in Western Buddhism's approach to youth. Certainly Michele McDonald didn't see it coming.

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