Posted in emptiness, Uncategorized

Emptiness

The story is that the Buddha gave the first turning of the Wheel of the Dharma, the first set of teachings, just after his Enlightenment. This teaching consisted of the Four Noble Truths.

And later there was a second turning. In the second turning the Buddha taught the Perfection of Wisdom teachings. This was a collection of numerous sutras designed to teach us about the true nature of reality, that all things are empty of inherent existent, that nothing exists apart from everything else, including us.

And later there was a third turning. The third turning was that Emptiness, far from being a nihilistic concept, can actually be explained as Buddha Nature, that we and all things are intimately and fundamentally connected.

It’s important to keep the Four Noble Truths in mind when we think about Emptiness. To truly understand Emptiness is to overcome our suffering. We can use analogies to help us think about Emptiness, but the only way we can really understand it is to experience it directly through meditation practice.

To say something is empty of inherent existence, we aren’t saying that it’s not real. We are only saying that things don’t exist independently and separately from other things. Everything is interconnected and dependent on everything else. In this way the entire universe is connected. The Buddha once described all things with the Indra’s Net analogy. This teaching is part of the foundation of the Huayan School of Buddhism, one of the precursors to Zen. He described all things as reflective gems reflecting each other in a giant net that encompasses the entire universe. In this way, all of the gems bare the reflection of all of the other gems.

Indra’s Net reminds me of a Mirror Maze I went to in Branson earlier this year. I was surrounded by mirrors. I could see myself in the mirror in from of me. But, because of the way the mirror walls and corridors were set up, I could also see myself in all of the other mirrors. My reflection was boundless and infinite.

The hope is that if we can see everything as empty of inherent existence then we can see ourselves in that way too. When we cling to this notion of a separate self, then we think of the things and people around us as “others”. It’s in this division that our suffering arises. It’s our continual conflict of self versus other. If we can drop this sense of duality and see that all things are connected, then we can overcome these negative emotions. To see yourself as one with everything is to love everything.

According to the doctrine of Emptiness any belief in a permanent reality is based on an assumption that makes no sense.

This whole teaching leads us to an understanding of another deep Buddhist teaching, Dependent Origination. That’s just the concept that things don’t exist on their own. We are all woven together in Indra’s Net and any separation that we perceive is a delusion. Our existence is connected to the existence of all other things. Looking at ourselves as separate beings who are alone is a mistake that leads to wrong views. Understanding that we are one with our environment is helpful to us.

Emptiness, in some ways, represents our potential. How many of our limitations are a result of how we perceive ourselves? If we are vast and interconnected, if we are boundless like the sky, then we aren’t held back by the ways we define ourselves. We are the universe.

 

 

Posted in buddhism

The Three Kleshas

There is a teaching in Buddhism called the three kleshas. Sometimes these are called the three afflictions. Usually their called the three poisons. These are said to be the three negative emotions that cause us the most suffering. They are the ones that prevent us from realizing our Enlightened true nature.

They are usually called Greed, Hatred, and Delusion. Sometimes they’re called Attachment, Aversion, and Ignorance.

Greed is our selfishness. Our desire, attachment, and yearning for happiness and satisfaction from external sources.

Hatred is our anger, aversion toward things we don’t want, where they are unpleasant people, circumstances, or even toward ourselves.
Delusion is our confusion, our misperception of reality.

The three poisons are caused by ignorance, ignorance of our true nature. Ignorance of our Enlightenment. Coming from ignorance, these poisons motivate us to make mistakes and act in ways that are outside our own interest and cause harm to ourselves and others.

Many of our actions are tainted by these poisons. They exist within us lust, craving, anger, jealousy, and confusion. These poisons can ruin us.

This seems negative, but the teachings of the Four Noble Truths really tell us that when we come to understand suffering and the causes of suffering, that’s when we can suffer less. We can takes the steps necessary to overcome these causes.

I’ll go over them one by one.

Greed

Greed is our impulse to always want more. We want the objects of our desire, regardless of what those are, to bring us permanent satisfaction so we can feel complete. It helps to think about the accumulation of wealth. Money is made up of numbers and numbers never end, so we can chase that forever if we are obsessed with how much is in our bank account.

When we believe that our fulfillment is dependent on what we have, then we come to realize that we don’t really get the same satisfaction we were expecting. We always want more. Greed can affect our relationships, our jobs, and everything else.

Greed can also manifest as a lack of generosity.

Hatred

Hatred can manifest as anger, but also as impatience, ill-will, annoyance, and hostility. We habitually resist and avoid feelings, circumstances, and people that we don’t like. We really want everything in our lives to be pleasant. This is nothing but a reinforcement of our illusion of duality and separation. Hatred puts us in a cycle of always finding something wrong.

When we are carrying hatred, our minds are frantic. We can’t be calm. We have a very easy time getting obsesses with whatever conflicts we are in. We can also have a conflict within, a hatred for our own feelings that we don’t like. With hatred we create enemies out of those around us and out of ourselves.

Delusion

Delusion is our lack of understanding about reality. This is our lack of ability to understand the nature of things as they are, free of our labels and preconceptions. Under delusion we aren’t in harmony with the world around.
Without right perception, we don’t understand the way things are interdependent and impermanent. Because of this we are always looking outside ourselves for satisfaction. Because of our delusion we don’t understand our true nature.

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The teachings of the Buddha tell us that our true nature is Enlightened, that this will be realized if we can just see through our layers of ignorance. The goal of our practice is to free ourselves from these three poisons so we can see our true nature.

To overcome these poisons we have to first learn to notice them when they arise. When we are mindful and aware, we can recognize these things coming into our minds.

In addition to just being mindful, there are things that are called antidotes to the three poisons. These are states of mind that we can cultivate that are said to help us overcome the three poisons.

To overcome greed: we cultivate generosity, service, and equanimity. We can reflect on how impermanent all the things we want are. We can practice giving away things we don’t need. We can also practice acts of service.

To overcome hatred: we cultivate loving-kindness, compassion, and patience. We want to learn how to embrace our life experiences with out aversion. We want to do practices that help us soften and open our hearts. We can also practice compassion for ourselves to deal with our own unpleasant feelings. Our feelings of insecurity and inadequacy require us to show ourselves patience and kindness.

To overcome delusion: we cultivate wisdom, insight, and understanding. Our meditation practice can help us learn how to experience reality as it is and free ourselves from delusion. Perceiving and acting in harmony with the interdependent nature of things, realizing that all beings and things are one, we free ourselves from delusion.

By studying the Dharma and trying to live up to the Buddha’s teachings, we can overcome the three poisons. When we overcome these three poisons, our true nature can shine forth like the sun.

 

Posted in Uncategorized, zen

The Three Essentials

There are three essentials of Zen practice. 

These are considered some of the greatest and most important virtues.

They are great faith, great doubt, and great determination.

Great faith means having faith in our mind’s ability to recognize our Buddha Nature. This is clearly very different from what other religions usually mean when they suggest that we should have faith.

In Zen Buddhism faith means faith in yourself.

It is holding on to the belief that the Buddha nature is present within us.

Great doubt is like the scientific method. It means don’t believe in anything unless we can demonstrate the truth for ourselves. All of our beliefs should be examined and re-examined often. Beliefs should be accepted or rejected based on our judgment. Any ideas that are found to be unhelpful, should be rejected.

In Zen we do not follow our religious teachers and leaders blindly. We check every belief against our own knowledge and experience.

It’s about having a healthy amount of skepticism. It might seem like great doubt and great faith are at odds.

The truth is we need a healthy dose of skepticism to temper our faith in ourselves.

Great determination is a firm resolution to go forward in our practice. It’s about staying on the path and avoiding discouragement. It’s about cultivating patience and self-discipline.

Zen is not always easy and it’s important to remember that there are no shortcuts.

These are important virtues in life and we should cultivate them.

Posted in Patheos, Uncategorized

Lotus

The Lotus flower is a beautiful plant. It lives in the water. It often comes out of water that’s muddy and unclean. But with great beauty, it blooms.

This is a common symbol in Buddhism. You can see it all over the place in Buddhist art. It’s really common for images of Bodhisattvas to be seen sitting on giant lotus flowers, and maybe holding small ones too.

One of the most well known mantras “OM MANI PADME HUM” means “the jewel in the lotus.” Chanting this mantra is declaring our own intent to attain Enlightenment.

Different colored lotus flowers are said to have different meanings in Buddhist symbolism. The blue lotus represents Prajnaparamita, the perfection of wisdom. The gold lotus represents the spiritual Enlightenment of all awakened beings. The pink lotus represents the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. The red lotus represents Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion and it’s said to represent our pure true nature. The white lotus represent purity, a state in which we aren’t afflicted by the three poisons: greed, hatred, and delusion. The purple lotus represents the mystical path.

There’s an additional layer of meaning. A lotus that is fully open represents full and complete Enlightenment. A lotus that’s closed represents the earliest stages on the path.

The lotus is significant because it’s beautiful and pure. But it came out of muddy water. Out of impurity comes purity.

We are the same. We come out of our messy human lives. We exist in a great deal of suffering, like the muddy water. Many of us have had horrendous circumstances in our lives. People we care about die. We struggle in daily life. And most of us have made decisions that are absolutely awful. (I know I have). We are mired in delusion and this is like the muddy water.

But, like the lotus, we can rise above it.

When we rise above the suffering of our lives, when we let go of the attachments that don’t serve us well, when we overcome the preconceptions that are harmful to our well being, we are rising out of the water. When we purify our minds, we are rising from the muddy water, beautiful and pure. And as we travel on the spiritual journey, our lotus blooms.

This is our spiritual journey. To come out of this delusion and bloom as pure and Enlightened beings is the essence of the Bodhisattva’s journey. We exist in the muddy water of suffering, but we are rising above the suffering in transforming ourselves. The lotus reminds us that even in the worst, most stained and deluded circumstances we can rise above things. We can transform ourselves.

But the truth is the lotus was pure the whole time, even before it bloomed, even before it rose above the water. It’s nature didn’t change. It’s purity simply emerged. We are the same way. Our Buddha nature is our true nature. Our Enlightenment is right here right now. We just have to emerge and bloom.

 

Lotus

Posted in Uncategorized, zen

Zen Master Huang Po

Huang Po was a Zen Master in China in the 800s.

He taught that mind cannot be sought by the mind. One of his most important sayings was “mind is the Buddha.” He said:

“All the Buddhas and all sentient beings are nothing but the One Mind, beside which nothing exists. The One Mind alone is the Buddha, and there is no distinction between the Buddha and other beings.”

He also said:

“To awaken suddenly to the fact that your own Mind is the Buddha, that there is nothing to be attained or a single action to be performed—this is the Supreme Way.“

He also firmly rejected all dualism, especially between the “ordinary” and “enlightened” states:

”If you would only rid yourselves of the concepts of ordinary and Enlightened, you would find that there is no other Buddha than the Buddha in your own Mind. The arising and the elimination of illusion are both illusory. Illusion is not something rooted in Reality; it exists because of your dualistic thinking. If you will only cease to indulge in opposed concepts such as ‘ordinary’ and ‘Enlightened,’ illusion will cease of itself.“

Since all is Buddha-mind, all actions reflect the Buddha, are actions of a Buddha. Huang Po’s teaching on this reflected the Indian concept of the tathatagarbha, the idea that within all beings is the nature of the Buddha. Therefore, Huang Po taught that seeking the Buddha was futile as the Buddha is within us already:

“If you know positively that all sentient beings already one with Bodhi (enlightenment), you will cease thinking of Bodhi as something to be attained”

Huang Po was adamant that any form of “seeking” was not only useless, but obstructed clarity:

“Sentient beings are attached to forms and so seek externally for Buddhahood. By their very seeking they lose it”.

Furthermore, he claimed that

‘Studying the Way’ is just a figure of speech […] In fact, the Way is not something which can be studied. You must not allow this name to lead you into forming a mental concept of a road.“

What Huang Po knew was that students of Zen often became attached to “seeking” enlightenment and he constantly warned against this (and all attachment) as an obstruction to enlightenment

“If you students of the Way wish to become Buddhas, you need study no doctrines whatever, but learn only how to avoid seeking for and attaching yourselves to anything.“

Huang Po often railed against traditional Buddhist textual practices, pointing to the necessity of direct experience over sutra study. If the truth is within us already, why would we need to study sutras?

 

Posted in iconoclasm, zen

Ikkyu: Crazy Cloud

“The autumn breeze of a single night of love is better than a hundred thousand years of sitting meditation.” ~Ikkyu

Ikkyu was an eccentric iconoclastic Zen monk and poet in the 1400s. He’s viewed equally as a heretic and a saint. Sometimes in Zen teachings these things aren’t quite as widely separated as one would think.

Buddhism sometimes has a reputation as being free and individualistic. At least, that’s how many of us wish it was. Often, this is not the case. The truth is Buddhism can sometimes be as rigid as other spiritual paths.

Ikkyu Sojun was the embodiment of iconoclastic Buddhism. He was wild and free.

Raised in a Rinzai Zen monastery, he was an illegitimate son of the emperor of Japan—so his mother put him in the monastery to make sure his life was spared.

The Buddhism he learned was strict and had a rigid hierarchy. He learned a lot about how to do rituals in exactly a certain way, but he didn’t feel like he was learning about awakening.

So when he reached adulthood and they offered him the certificate of enlightenment that would allow him to become a fully ordained Zen Monk, he refused. He left the monastery instead.

He hadn’t given up on the Dharma. He thought that the monks he met were just acting spiritual and focusing on the hierarchy instead of the Dharma. Some believed that enlightenment could only be found by breathing in incense and sitting in silent meditation for hours at a time. Ikkyu disagreed. He believed enlightenment was with us already and we could realize it just as easily by spending our time with poor people and prostitutes as we could with monks. So that’s what he decided to do.

He rebelled against many of the monks and Zen teachers of his time who had become corrupted by politics are greed. He called out the practice of selling Enlightenment certificates.

His Zen wasn’t held down by needless structure and tradition.

It was about just this moment, real ultimate reality. Mystical truth, not religion.

That’s what he’s known for. But he did something else as well. He took Zen teaching to places that had no experience of it. Most of his contemporaries gave teachings only to monks. Ikkyu wasn’t like that. Not content to live in a monastery, he took Zen into the world.

His temple was the street.

And he taught people that monks would never teach. He taught Zen practice to prostitutes, artists, homeless people and alcoholics. He brought the Dharma to the misfits and radicals, those who were looked down on by society.

He became a wandering monk and was given the nickname ‘Crazy Cloud’.

The point of Ikkyu’s life story is that the ‘sacred’ is nothing more than ordinary life experienced with mindfulness. His view was non-dualistic. He traveled the country doing things that we don’t associate with monks. There are a lot of stories about him traveling the country, drinking sake, and sleeping with women. He was freedom-loving and he didn’t really care what the religious authorities of the time thought.

Instead of staying in monasteries like most monks, Ikkyu gave teachings in places monks didn’t usually go. He taught in the streets and in brothels. His students were hobos, criminals and prostitutes. A lot more of his students were laypeople than monks because he thought the Dharma was for everyone, so he wanted to make sure that it was completely available.

But, at the same time, he expected a lot from his students. His ways taught that having a regular meditation practice was important.

 His students were dedicated to Buddhist practice, but in the real world instead of in monasteries.

His teaching  was radical in its non-dualism. This version of Buddhism includes the entire world in its teaching, rather than being confined to sacred spaces. If all beings have Buddha nature, then enlightenment isn’t a matter of lifestyle, it’s a living experience. When his teachers tried to get him to stay in a monastery, he wouldn’t do it. He wanted to be in the world, working for the Dharma.

Is this bad? I think his story is a lesson. We shouldn’t be attached to what we think a good Buddhist should do and we certainly shouldn’t be attached to systems of authority. Good and bad are just labels. More than that, challenges to authority are important, especially religious forms of authority. Even if you think Ikkyu was wrong in his iconoclasm, it’s important that he was there to make the challenges.

Near the end of his life, a civil war caused many Zen temples to be destroyed. Ikkyu was a big advocate for rebuilding them. In old age his life’s mission was making sure that the religious structure that he had rebelled against would not be lost forever. In the end, Zen in Japan owes him a debt. He was an outsider who saved the teachings from destruction.

Ikkyu is a very important inspiration to me. It can be easy, on this path, to get caught up in dogma and ritual and really lose sight of what we’re trying to do. This path is about Enlightenment.

Nothing more or less than that.

Posted in enlightenment

What is Enlightenment?

Enlightenment

So, what is Enlightenment? Enlightenment is simply coming to an intuitive understanding of our true nature, the delusion of the self, the oneness of all things. When we can dwell in this experience, that is Enlightenment. In the Ch’an tradition we say that everyone is Enlightened already because this is our fundamental nature. We only don’t see it because it’s obscured by layers of delusion.

I think of Enlightenment as a transition from awareness of the self as a limited individual to awareness.

Posted in Uncategorized

Through the Veil of Delusion

If we can just see through the veil of delusion that clouds our minds, even for only a short time, then we can see our true nature, our Buddha nature which is luminous emptiness.

With this single deep insight we can see that our Buddha nature is our true self. This makes the path easier, it makes witnessing our true self something we can come to again and again. If we come to this realization, then our Buddha nature ceases to be something theoretical, a philosophy we adhere to, and becomes our real, direct experience.

This is what separates and individual on the path of Awakening from one that is not on the path.

Posted in tattooed buddha

Meditation Primer: Tranquility and Insight

Meditation is a general term that’s used for several different spiritual practices.

The goal of these practices is to bring the meditator to a state of heightened awareness and/or to bring a state of awakening or enlightenment.

If we practice with determination we can come to non-dualistic states of mind. This can lead to enlightenment.

Most types of meditation that are taught in Buddhism fall into one of two categories. They are Concentration and Insight.

Concentration

This is sometimes called calm abiding or tranquility. This type of meditation can be done in several different ways. One is a mindless repetition of a word or phrase (such as OM or RAM), another is by staring at an object like a mandala or a flame (like you do around a campfire).

But there is one way that is simpler than all the others. This is the practice of following the breath. In this practice we just follow the pattern of our breathing and any time our thoughts distract us, we pull our attention back to our breathing. Often counting breaths is recommended as a point of focus, but that isn’t necessarily important. If we spend a lot of time engaged in this practice we will have better focus and we will be able to enter a deeper state of calm.

Insight

This type of meditation can also be done in several different ways. It is normally done in addition to concentration practices. In this type of meditation we are trying to deeply analyze something—often ourselves. If we were using this in breathing meditation we would minutely examine the breath that’s coming into and exiting our bodies, rather than simply following it. Another version of this is the hua tou.

In hua tou practice, we are constantly asking ourselves a question (usually a difficult to answer one like ‘who am I’ or ‘what is this’). These seem like easy questions, but it quickly becomes clear that they are not when we sit and analyze them.

Another example is the zen koan, in which a teacher asks a student to answer a seemingly nonsensical riddle, like “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” The purpose of these practices is to challenge our delusions and force our minds to think in a nondualistic way.

With these two practices our consciousness can awaken to it’s true nature, which is luminous and free.

 

http://thetattooedbuddha.com/a-meditation-primer-tranquility-and-insight/

Posted in tattooed buddha

The Shining Void

“Lay down all thoughts,

surrender to the void.

It is shining.”

~ John Lennon

Buddhism represents overcoming suffering by understanding the true nature of things.

We are stuck in delusion and it prevents us from engaging our true selves a lot of the time. But what is the true nature of things?

Buddhism expresses it in two ways that might seem contradictory. I want to combine them and refer to it as the Shining Void.

One concept is Shunyata.

Shunyata is often translated as emptiness. This leads to some confusion. I don’t think of empty as like the number zero, I think of it as a vast and beautiful emptiness, like the sky. This is the concept that nothing in the universe has an inherent existence. That is, nothing exists on it’s own. Everything in the universe is interconnected with everything else.

Everything is dependent on everything else. Everything is just a collection of things that are influencing other things. This is especially important because it applies to us. I think of myself as this real and independent being. But am I? Or am I just part of a whole?

The other concept is Tathatagarbha.

Tathatagarbha is often translated as Buddha Nature. It’s the concept that we are one with everything; that there is a cosmic oneness to the universe. All this separation that we experience is the result of delusion. The concept of Buddha Nature indicates that we already know that we are one with everything.

We don’t always realize it but at the core of our being we are Enlightened. Our minds are clouded by delusion, so we cling to the idea of an independent self. If we can realize our interdependence then we can be happier and suffer less.

I am part of you and you are part of me—we aren’t separate. If we can think of things in this way, there is very little reason for things like envy or resentment.

So, why are there two separate concepts for this? I think we’re trying to grasp something deep and profound that is hard to understand in words.

Bodhidharma said, “The truth is beyond words and letters.”

We try to understand concepts like this, but the truth is they have to be experienced to be understood. We have to have our own spiritual insights. Our minds label things and ultimately these labels don’t really represent reality.

Sometimes when I am deep in insight meditation, I feel the truth of emptiness. Sometimes when I am deep in compassion meditation, I feel the truth of oneness.
It’s all the Shining Void.

“Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. Between these two my life turns.” ~ Nisargadatta Maharaj

 

http://thetattooedbuddha.com/the-shining-void-what-buddhists-mean-by-emptiness/