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Sunday
Jun012003

Reader essays/Politics

Being a Zen student in the Korean Chogye tradition has taught me that all of my political thoughts, feelings, opinions and impulses arise by themselves like flowers in the springtime. They arise because of my family background, life experiences, education, and the influences of friends, neighbors, co-workers, politicians and the news media. They have no self-nature, they are transitory; next year or next decade I expect to have different beliefs. Therefore, I am very careful about not becoming overly attached to my beliefs or to the results of an election or legislative session.

When I push facts and data through my personal screens and sieves, I come to mostly conservative conclusions. I know this is quite different from many other sangha members, who come to liberal conclusions. However, common to both views is the desire to serve beings, and to serve beings through involvement in the shaping of public policy.

What disturbs me about the current political environment is that there is so little courtesy, respect and dialogue between political activists from opposite ends of the spectrum. It is so very toxic—definitely not Buddhist. There are opportunities for forming working coalitions focused on serving beings, but these opportunities are being lost at local, state, national and world levels.

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Sunday
Jun012003

Dharma Dictionary: Interdependent Origination

Defined by Francesca Fremantle

Interdependent origination (Skt., pratityasamutpada) is the law of causality, which Shakyamuni discovered at his awakening. It revealed to him the whole truth of existence, and in penetrating it he became the Awakened One. What he saw was a total vision of how and why all beings throughout space and time are entangled in samsara for countless lives, as well as his own past lives in his progress toward liberation. This was the extraordinary insight that distinguished his teaching from others, so it is said, “whoever sees interdependent origination sees the dharma, whoever sees the dharma sees the Buddha.” When Assaji, one of the Buddha’s first disciples, was asked by Shariputra about his master’s teaching, his reply was a summary of interdependent origination, which became famous as the fundamental doctrine of buddhadharma:

Whatever things are cause-produced, the Tathagata has told their cause;
and
what their cessation is, thus the great ascetic teaches.

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Sunday
Mar022003

Profile: Zen Hospice Society

People in the final stages of their lives who enter the Zen Hospice Project are not seeking a path of meditation, and in fact they will hear little mention of “Zen” or “Buddhism” while they are there. The project, founded in 1987, evolved from caring for several residents who were dying at the San Francisco Zen Center and later grew into a service for the larger community. For founder Frank Ostaseski, ZHP exists simply because “there is a natural match between meditators—people who cultivate the listening mind—and people who really need to be heard at least once in their lives, folks who are dying. I just thought that we should put these people together and that if we did something good would happen.”

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Saturday
Mar012003

"Quick! Who Can Save This Cat?"

Norman Fischer is a former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center and founder of the Everyday Zen Foundation. His most recent book is Opening to You: Zen-Inspired Translations of the Psalms (Viking Compass).

The Case

Nanchuan saw the monks of the eastern and western halls fighting over a cat. Seizing the cat, he told the monks: "If any of you can say a word of Zen, you will save the cat." No one answered. Nanchuan cut the cat in two. That evening Zhaozho returned to the monastery and Nanchuan told him what had happened. Zhaozho removed his sandals, placed them on his head, and walked out. Nanchuan said: "If you had been there, you would have saved the cat."

Mumon's Comment

Why did Zhaozho put his sandals on his head? If you can answer this question, you will understand exactly that Nanchuan's action was not in vain. If not, danger!

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Saturday
Mar012003

"Do Buddhists Pray?"

Sarah Harding is a Tibetan translator and lama in the Kagyü school of Vajrayana Buddhism and editor of Creation and Completion: Essential Points of Tantric Meditation (Wisdom).

Rev. Shohaku Okumura is director of the Soto Zen Buddhism International Center in San Francisco.

Mark Unno is ordained in the Shin Buddhist tradition and is an assistant professor of East Asian religions at the University of Oregon.

The Venerable Wadawala Seelawimala is a Theravadin monk from Sri Lanka and professor at the Institute for Buddhist Studies and the Graduate Theological Seminary in Berkeley.

Buddhadharma: Perhaps we could begin our discussion of the role of prayer in Buddhism by considering the Pure Land tradition, which is renowned for supplicating or invoking what it calls “other power.”

Mark Unno: One of the primary practices of the Pure Land tradition is intoning the name of Amida Buddha. In the Shin school, we say Namu Amida Butsu, which roughly translates as “I take refuge in Amida Buddha,” or “I entrust myself to Amida Buddha.”

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Saturday
Mar012003

”Mother of Light: The Inspiring Story of Dipa Ma”

Amy Schmidt and Sara Jenkins tell the inspiring story of Dipa Ma, known as "the patron saint of householders."

Gotama Buddha's familiar story follows the archetypal hero’s journey: he left behind wife and child and renounced the ordinary world to seek the holy life. Dipa Ma followed a similar path, but with an unexpected turn. Ultimately she took her practice home again, living out her enlightenment in a simple city apartment with her daughter. Her responsibilities as a parent were clarified by her spiritual practice; she made decisions based not on guilt and obligation but on the wisdom and compassion that arose from meditation. Instead of withdrawing to a cave or a forest hermitage, Dipa Ma stayed home and taught from her bedroom—appropriately enough, a room with no door.

Nani Bala Barua, later known as Dipa Ma, was born in 1911 in a village on the plains of Chittagong in what is now Bangladesh. The indigenous Buddhist culture there traces its lineage in an unbroken line back to the Buddha. By the time Dipa Ma was born, meditation practice had almost disappeared among her clan, but they continued to observe Buddhist rituals and customs.

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Saturday
Mar012003

”The Three Bodies of Enlightenment“

“Dharmakaya is like the sun, sambhogakaya is like the rays, and nirmanakaya is like the rays hitting the objects on the earth. Nirmanakaya is the physical situation, and sambhogakaya and dharmakaya are the level of mind.”

A teaching on the three kayas by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

The three bodies of enlightenment are three types of atmosphere involved with ordinary, everyday life, as well as with enlightened mind. To start from the beginning, the first body, dharmakaya, is background or origin. It is why we are here—not necessarily why we are here in this particular place or why we are studying Buddhism, but why we are here at all. Why are we here on this earth? Why is there earth at all? Why is there sun and why is there moon? Why all of this? The first body seems to be our basis, or starting point: we start from outer space, to begin with; then we slowly get into inner space and the earth.

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Saturday
Mar012003

“Facing the Mirror”

Ayya Khema (1923-1997) was born in Berlin in and became the first Western woman to be ordained as a Theravadin nun. This article is excerpted from her book, Come and See for Yourself: The Buddhist Path to Happiness, published by Windhorse Publications, 2002.

What we perceive as the faults of others are simply a reflection of our own. If we observe what is going on in the other person, we can use what we notice as a mirror to know ourselves. A commentary on two verses of the Dhammapada by the late Ayya Khema.

Easily seen are the faults of others,
Hard indeed to see are one's own;
The faults of others you bring to light
Like winnowing the chaff,
But your own faults you cover up
As the trickster conceals a losing throw.
Those who always find fault with others,
Who criticize constantly,
Their own cravings will grow,
Far are they from the cessation of their desires.
Dhammapada 252-3

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Saturday
Mar012003

Money for Nothing

by David R. Loy

What does Buddhism add to conventional Western conceptions about money? St. Paul the Apostle, one of the first proponents of Christianity, taught that love of money is the root of all evil, emphasizing that our greed and attachment to money is what makes it such a problem—for those who have it, at least. The New Testament also warns us not to “lay up for ourselves treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19-21), for how do we profit if we gain the world but lose our souls in the process? And long before those biblical verses were written, the Greek story of Midas and his golden touch gave us the classic metaphor for what happens when money—pure means—becomes an end in itself.

Today money serves at least three functions. For better or worse, it is our indispensable medium of exchange. Worthless in itself—coins and bills can’t be eaten or shelter us when it rains—it is at the same time more valuable than anything else. Because it is how we agree to define value, money can transform into almost anything.

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Saturday
Mar012003

Readers’ Essays

My teacher said, “When you view the workplace as your shrine room, you are being paid to practice.” When I received this instruction I was working as the assistant manager of a 7-11 store. Once it became my shrine room, I took far better care of it. Stocking the shelves mindfully became a joy rather than a chore, and sweeping or scrubbing the floor was an exercise in equal amounts of precision and enthusiasm. Within two weeks, the store began to sparkle and shine, and I discovered that upliftedness is contagious. Regular customers came more frequently and stayed longer. Employees who could not rise to the occasion abruptly quit, and were replaced by people with energy and enthusiasm.

One Sunday morning when I was the only person working, the driver of a Greyhound bus made an unexpected stop at the store and disgorged his fifty passengers. That morning I saw that money was nothing more or less than energy. I watched a particular dollar bill with interest. It came from one customer and went into the cash drawer. The next customer stepped up and I handed it to him as change. He handed it to his son who was standing behind him. The son stepped up with his purchase and the bill went back into the cash drawer. To the next customer, it was given in change. But as she left the store, she gave it to a man panhandling outside the door. The man came in, made his purchase and the bill went back into the cash drawer. To the next customer, it was given in change and did not come back.

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