Friday, January 6, 2006

Inspirational Admonition

I just visited Zen Under the Skin, one of the Buddhist blogs I keep linked in the Blogs page. Chalip recently posted something from the Maitreya Buddhist Seminary page of the Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom. I don't know if it is considered poor blogging etiquette to quote the same thing you find on someone else's blog. However, I really found that several things resonated with me. The underlined portions are emphasis added by yours truly:

Everyday Admonition for Dharma Students.

1. Please perform your formal morning practice faithfully Monday through Friday. Your morning practice is the place of your awakening that you are the living embodiment of the Buddha through your response to the Buddha Shakyamuni and spiritual communion with His tradition of wisdom and compassion. Always begin your day cheerfully with your morning practice and examine yourself before you retire and give thanks to all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the day. (Yebul)

2. Follow your weekly Dharma schedule, be fully accountable for your duties and do your utmost. (Sense of Duty)

3. Enlightenment and truth are always before your eyes and within your reach. Enlightenment is the pure and sincere heart of practice itself, and the truth is the spirit of practice that all sentient beings are Buddha. Accordingly, there is no enlightenment or truth apart from the common ordinary person and the everyday task. You should know that it is delusion to run around looking for truth and enlightenment, and to seek or anticipate them from the outside. Let go of your delusion. The mind of the Dharma student should be one of fortitude with the faith and power of the Bodhisattva Vow and free from fear, angst and worries. So keep your mind in alignment everyday. (Life of No Delusion)

4. Repent, seek forgiveness and restore yourself right away if you caused trouble to others, committed wrongdoings or made blunders through carelessness and inattention. Keep your mind free from guilt and remorse through sincere repentance and avoid retribution such as hatred and enmity. Constant repentance is constant awakening. (Repentance)

5. The body-and-mind of the Dharma student should be poor and pure. Care for goods and articles. They are the properties of the Three Jewels. Use them clean and sparingly so that they last. Recycle them when they are no longer useful. Clean utensils and implements after use and put them where they belong. Try to manage with less or loss, if possible, but be generous and helpful to others as much as possible. (Hidden Virtue)

6. Always keep your dwelling and environment clean and tidy. To take good care of your dwelling place and temple environment is to take good care of the body-and-mind of your Dharma student training. To take good care of the body-and-mind of your Dharma student training (purity of heart) is to transform this world into the land of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Cleaning and keeping our environment free from pollution is the Pure Land movement. Be on your guard and diligent. (Environmental Movement)

7. It is conduct unbecoming to a Dharma student to pick on others and blame them in order to build a self-defense or reinforce one's position. It is the downfall of a Dharma student to become jealous of the other people's prosperity and gloat over others' misfortunes. If such a feeling or thought arises you should perform prostrations right away and surrender your weakness, and renew your Bodhisattva vows and pray for the happiness of all beings. (Renewal and Kido)

8. All Dharma students should be happy and energetic Buddhists ready to lend a helping hand. (Three Stars)

The Society also interestingly enough lists what it considers the five major pronouncement of Mahayana teachings:

  1. All sentient beings are buddhas.

  2. Samsara is Nirvana.

  3. One's passions are enlightenment.

  4. We are an interrelated whole.

  5. Everyday life is the Way.

It isn't really surprising that Son Buddhism (Korean) is going to have many of the same teachings as its forerunner Ch'an (Chinese) and its cousin Zen (Japanese). I really like the straightforward presentation, which also typical of this form of Buddhism. Of course, the hard part isn't these truths. For example, some of what I underlined can be traced back to the Platform Sutra of Hui Neng, the 6th Ancestor (a.k.a the 6th Patriarch) of Ch'an. Intellectually it can take a while to work out the philosophical nature of some of these statements, but even when that has been accomplished, there is a difference between understanding and intellectual/emotional assent to these teachings and truly realizing it yourself. That is--truly knowing it, being directly aware of it--not just saying "Yeah, hey wow, you know, that makes so much sense!"

I started studying Buddhism in my spare time and by myself in 2004, and then I began a formal practice at the start of 2005. A very short time really. I was so happy when I finally worked out for my self why Buddhism rejects nihilism and eternalism after thinking about the central teaching of the Heart Sutra viz form and emptiness. I was estatic when I read this line from the Platform Sutra, "Affliction is just Bodhi and the cycle of birth and death is Nirvana", because it fit so well with my own resolution to the issue about these issues. After all, if the present is all we have, then if Bodhi and Nirvana can be attained, where else would they be? In the future? In some other place? Of couse not. So it really made so much sense, having been working on these questions, that the everpresent birth and death of each moment must also contain the experience of Nirvana, and amidst our confusion and suffering must be lurking Bodhi. Hence escaping Samsara isn't about some future far far away but escaping the cycle of delusion that repeats itself constantly every day, the 12 steps of dependent origination of our false self that always begins with ignorance. The idea that Affliction is Bodhi (translated by the Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom as "One's passions are enlightenment") also made sense as my effort to understand the riddle of mind came to a minor fruition. Just as a lotus blooms in the mud, Bodhi blooms in afflication. Bodhi isn't the absence of pain or emotion, as some seem to believe. It might be better to think of it not as *avoiding* the ups and downs of life or hiding away but how we understand and deal with them. It is seeing opportunity in crisis, a chance to learn in failure, a chance to heal and comfort in pain. Then there was my favorite, when one night a thought occurred to me. If being mindful, open and cheerful to each new moment, is really the substance of enlightenment, then what is it to seek enlightenment? I then finally "got" a passage from Zen-Shin Talks by Rev. Ogui where he relayed a story in which someone asked him "What is enlightenment?", and he at first thought "What a great answer!" (paraphrasing). Hence I thought to myself, "What is enlightenment?" is practically a question which is also its own answer. If truth is not static but ever unfolding then so is its realization. This theme of course also resonated with me in the above quotes, where they write "here is no enlightenment or truth apart from the common ordinary person and the everyday task". This echos the words of Layman P'ang (quote found on the Cloudwater Zendo website):

There is nothing special about my daily affairs,
I am simply in spontaneous harmony with them.
Clinging to nothing and also rejecting nothing,
I encounter no resistance and am always free.
What do I care for the pomp of purple robes?
The pure summit was never sullied by so much as a fleck of dust.
The wondrous action of magical forces
I find in cutting wood and carrying water.

So then last week, I was thinking again about something I had pondered before, the relationship between form and formlessness, and how they are interrelated by the processes (or active perspectives) of transcendence and imminence. That is, transcendence going from the individual elements of something (form) to the indiscriminant whole (formlessness) and imminence going from the indiscriminant whole to a manifestation of individual elements. Now, this of course is an interesting area of metaphysics, because it is easy to get lost in ramblings and imaginary tangents. After all, speculation and creativity are hallmarks of the species. So going on the general teachings of Buddism, I recalled reading about perceiving form, then formlessness, then form and formlessness as interrelated, then finally not starting off by discussing them as separable things, but rather as different perspectives on reality. Then I began speculating about that last bit, since it implies that at some point transcendence meets imminence. Now, I have no idea what that means really. I am sure that someone might at this point interject something that fits their preferred belief structure, and talk about Allah or Jesus or something. But it seems simpler. The intersection is the present moment, ever-changing and eternal. Ancient yet ever new. And of course our experience of this is what we call awareness. Which resonates perfectly well with general Buddhist teachings about Being--seeing that each moment of awareness is the realization of Bodhi but that by becoming distracted by delusion we forfeit our own Buddha-mind (note: this is the result of a year of reflection, and does not mean I spend most of my time pondering such things, as it may appear from the extensive summary of examples I have listed)

But note that its one thing to have these little hard won, personal revelations that find some kind of affirmation in received teachings or writings, and it is another to fully realize them as a part of life. One danger of getting caught up overly much in such abstractions and ponderances is that it can easily become a major distraction--one is too busy pondering life to live it! That doesn't mean that introspection and reflection has no place, but it cannot replace directly knowing these notions as living reality not just slogans or beliefs. Plus, relying too much on thought experiments and abstractions can lull one into thinking of their insights with an undue degree of finality. Lastly, note that all of these notions actually keep pointing back to paying attention to and fully appreciating everyday life, not just accruing models and systems about the meaning of life.

So, while I do value any insight, large or small, I gain into the philosophy of Buddhism, I continue to remind myself that Buddhism itself is just a means to an end, and that living a fully actualized life begins each moment. Which gets back to why I think I really liked that list of admonitions. Having come to the conclusion on my own that the teaching behind them are sound and based on solid principles, it was nice to see such a succinct summary emphasizing their daily practical application.



  1. Hmm, having read the excerpt chosen for the recent update of Blogmandu, I thought it might be a good idea to add a little clarification. This isn't a complaint or criticism of the commentary given on Blogamandu in any possible sense, but the selection cited was written hastily and may come across sounding a tad arrogant. In particular, I think "as some seem to believe" suggests I have the "right" view and others do not. Perhaps a more thoughtful rendition would have been stated in a less divisive form, perhaps "If this is correct we should enterain the idea that Bodhi isn't the absence of pain or emotion, as it is often portrayed." I think one reason I sometimes drop that less humble and mindful tone is that I frequently write in opposition to my own preconceived views, wherein the challenges are challenges to my own assumptions or doubts or my own estimation of conventional wisdom. It isn't intended as an authoratative pronouncement.

    Also, while this wasn't suggested, in case anyone might be wondering I wasn't worried about whether the Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom's list of "core teachings" of Mahayna Buddhism is really the "core" of Mahanaya Buddhist teachings. I just noticed a couple points on that list that clicked with my own thinking on Buddhism.

    Oh, and thanks to everyone who reads this blog and gives me some form of insight into how they are perceiving my attempts to wrestle with my own understanding of Buddhism as well as my practice.


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