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Entries in Spring 2005 (12)

Tuesday
Mar012005

Mind Is Buddha

Damei once asked Master Mazu, “What is buddha?” Mazu answered, “Mind is buddha.”

Wumen’s Commentary

If you can at once grasp “it,” you are wearing buddha clothes, eating buddha food, speaking buddha words, and living buddha life; you are a buddha yourself. Though this may be so, Damei has misled a number of people and let them trust a scale with a stuck pointer. Don’t you know that you have to rinse out your mouth for three days if you have uttered the word “buddha”? If you are a real Zen person, you will stop your ears and rush away when you hear, “Mind is buddha.”

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Tuesday
Mar012005

Tiny, Slippery Spot of Mind: The four foundations of mindfulness in the Mahayana tradition

In the Mahayana tradition, mindfulness is regarded as wisdom, transcendental knowledge, which is known in Sanskrit as prajna. Mindfulness is also a method of working with our mind. It is the method of recollection, of watchfulness, which develops into the stage of awareness. But if you look at this mindfulness and awareness, you will see that there is not much difference between them. Once you have developed the discipline of mindfulness, awareness is simply the continuity of that mindfulness.

There are several stages we progress through in our study and cultivation of prajna. These become the means for integrating our understanding into our experience, and progressively developing that experience into the full state of realization. In this article, I will discuss the four foundations of mindfulness as they are understood and practiced in the general Buddhist approach and in the Mahayana tradition.

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Tuesday
Mar012005

Spring Comes, the Grass Grows by Itself: Remembering Zen Master Seung Sahn (1927-2004)

I remember him best bowing. For years he rose at 3 a.m. to do five hundred prostrations before the regular 108 with the group at morning practice. He was a sturdy figure in his short, grey bowing robe. His arms swung freely both on the descent and ascent. His forehead pressed against the mat for a precise moment before he rocked forward on his hands to rise. “Much bowing,” he used to say, “your center becomes stronger and stronger.”

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Tuesday
Mar012005

In Translation: Great Perfection in the Palm of Your Hand

Essential Advice for Solitary Meditation Practice was written by Dudjom Rinpoche (1904-1987) at the behest of a retreatant, Rikzang Dorje, in residence at Dudjom Rinpoché’s three-year retreat center, Ogmin Pema Ösel, in Tibet. This profound teaching contains within it the entire path of Great Perfection (Dzogchen), including how to prepare oneself for retreat, how to discern a proper location, as well as key instructions on view, meditation and conduct, including direct advice on how to bring your experiences onto the path.

In three-year retreat, my teacher, Lama Tharchin Rinpoche—who was one of those fortunate retreatants for whom Dudjom Rinpoche wrote this text—would refer us to this text over and over again. It seemed that the answer to every question on meditation we posed would be found in Essential Advice for Solitary Meditation Practice. We all found this to be true, and it continues to be my treasured companion.

The text is divided into three parts: Preparation, Main Practice and Post-meditation. What follows is the Main Practice section in its entirety, with brief excerpts from the Preparation and Post-meditation sections.

—Ron Garry, translator

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Tuesday
Mar012005

Theravada Practice Off the Cushion

For anyone dedicated to a spiritual path, the concern that recurs most often is how to keep one’s daily activities in line with one’s highest aspirations. Special religious activities may punctuate the calendar to give energy to this daily quest, but the basic issues of any spiritual life are shaped by the need to ensure that the particulars of one’s day-to-day decisions don’t run counter to one’s larger vision of a life well-lived.

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Tuesday
Mar012005

See Things Clear Through

It’s important that we discuss the steps of the practice in training the mind, for the mind has all sorts of deceptions by which it fools itself. If you aren’t skillful in investigating and seeing through them, they are very difficult to overcome, even if you’re continually mindful to keep watch over the mind.

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Tuesday
Mar012005

Give and You Shall Receive

Among Buddhists in the West, the traditional practice of giving is often considered a lay virtue aimed at achieving a better rebirth in the next life. While there is nothing particularly wrong with this understanding, it has a serious drawback: giving is often assumed among more serious practitioners to be a relatively lesser practice in Buddhism, superseded by the elite forms of ethics, scholarly study and meditation. This assumption is inaccurate and has led to a unbalanced, distorted version of Buddhism, not only among scholars but also among Western practitioners.

Descriptions of the practice of giving are found, as is well-known, in the earliest Buddhist texts. Perhaps surprisingly, at least for some, the giving practices outlined there possess much depth, subtlety and sophistication, and certainly do not conform to the prevalent stereotypes of “lay Buddhism.”

In the early texts, the practice of giving articulates the way in which (usually) lay donors and their renunciant (monastic and yogic) recipients establish relationships with one another. As the texts emphasize, the renunciants make the first gesture of giving by presenting themselves to the lay person as a potential “field of merit” or “object of offering.” In practical terms, this means that on their alms rounds they turn up at the door of a home and offer their willing—and generous—availability for a relationship with the lay person living there.

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Tuesday
Mar012005

Peace Is More Than Not Fighting

When I walk into Vishva Niketan, the “Universal Abode of Peace,” I encounter camera and lighting gear all around its pavilion. They are trained on the man I’ve come to meet—the founder, ideologue and illustrious spokesman of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement of Sri Lanka. Dr. Ariyaratne, I am told, is being interviewed by national TV; please wait.

Back outside the pavilion, I slowly make my way through the lush surroundings, up and down paths with names like Karuna Path (“Path of Compassion”). Vishva Niketan was built to serve as a space for dialogue and peacemaking, but it has the air and function of a meditation center. This dual role is typical of the Sarvodaya movement’s belief that nothing substantial can be achieved without the compassionate outlook and mindfulness cultivated by meditation.

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Tuesday
Mar012005

Ask the Teachers

I’ve been practicing in the Theravada tradition for six years. About seven years ago I was diagnosed with dysthymia (chronic mild depression), which occasionally escalates into full-blown depression. About two and a half years ago I began taking antidepressant medication to control the deeper depressive episodes. The first medication I tried helped for a while and then seemed to quit. The one I’m using now keeps the deep depression at bay but I think it’s destroying my mind. I’m finding it difficult to concentrate, my memory is deteriorating, and I’m becoming somewhat apathetic.

My state of mind is interfering with my meditation practice. My doctor wants me to give the medication another three months but I’m afraid my mind will become mush and there will be no hope for my enlightenment in this life.

Since becoming a Buddhist, I’ve wanted to ordain in the Theravada tradition and devote the remainder of my life to intensive practice. But I’m married. I’m also concerned that my current state of mind would lead to failure as a monastic. Any ideas?

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Tuesday
Mar012005

Readers’ Exchange: Is Your Practice Working?

When You Are You, Zen Is Zen

In the late sixties when the back-to-the-land, “turn-on, tune-in, drop-out” counter-culture was in full swing—when the People’s Baker baked bread and gave it away for free—Suzuki Roshi told us in a lecture, “Your culture is based on ideas of self-improvement... Improvement means that instead of going to Japan by ship, now you can go by jumbo jet. So improvement is based on comparative value, which is also the basis of our society and our economy. I understand that you are rejecting that idea of [material] civilization, but you are not rejecting the idea of improvement. You still try to improve something. Isn’t that rather materialistic? ...Buddhists do not hold so strongly to the idea of improvement.”

Some months later when I tried to use that as an excuse not to practice hard, he said, “Ed, if your practice is not advancing, it’s going downhill backwards—fast.”

So what is this advancing that is not getting caught up in improvement? (And wouldn’t that be the real way to improve?) Everyday mind is the way.

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