The Cry of The Earth

After events like Hurricane Sandy, there’s always someone just chomping at the bit to assign the cause to society’s moral degeneration and the supernatural. People like John McTernan, a radical right wing Christian preacher, who blames the super-storm on homosexuals and Obama, along with the wild assertion that “God is systematically destroying America.”

Buddhism has had a few nuts, too. In 13th century Japan, a guy named Nichiren blamed the great earthquake of 1257 on the Japanese people for slandering the Lotus Sutra, as if a collection of writings somehow had a consciousness and the mystic power to punish people. Fortunately, Buddhists like Nichiren have been rare.

The cause for Hurricane Sandy was weather, pure and simple. However, it did get some assistance from a little thing called “global warming.”

GOES satellite image provided by NASA

As I understand it, there were a number of unique factors involved with making Hurricane Sandy the largest Atlantic hurricane on record with winds nearly 1,000 miles in diameter – a “superstorm.”

Sandy was a modestly strong hurricane as it came up from the Caribbean and it should have lost energy when it began to pass over U.S mainland. However, this storm moved along the eastern coast where the waters were warmer than usual, giving it more energy and making it larger. It began producing its own cyclones that became storms of their own, known as “nor’easters.” Then Sandy ran into a jet stream. Normally a jet stream will weaker a hurricane and push the cyclones out to sea. But due to climate change, the arctic is melting and changing the jet stream, causing it to dip much further southward than normal. This only made Sandy larger, and slower moving.

Climate change played another part because as the ocean gets warmer, the sea levels become higher. Sandy’s positioning, a full moon, high tide, and high sea levels contributed to the storms incredible impact.

Well, that’s what you would call a layman’s explanation. Still, it’s factual, and yet many Americans will want to blame the storm on God and/or ignore the climate change aspect, because nearly half of all Americans don’t believe the threat of global warming is real.

There is something to the idea that we pay a price for our collective actions and attitudes as human beings, after all that is one of the prime points behind global warming: it’s man-made.

However, most of you reading this already know about all that. Perhaps, you also recall how I have mentioned several times recently that Buddhism teaches the oneness of life and environment.

On December 30, 2004, Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh gave a dharma talk in Plum Village, France, following the Indian Ocean earthquake. In this excerpt he talks about this principle of oneness. His remarks should not be taken literally. He’s not suggesting that the earth too has a consciousness, rather he’s using a poetic touch to describe the impact that we are having on our one and only home:

The human species and the planet Earth are one body. I have the feeling that our planet Earth is suffering, and this tsunami is the cry of the earth as it writhes in pain: a lament, a cry for help, a warning.

We have lived together so long without love and compassion for each other. We destroy each other; we abuse our mother Earth. So the Earth has turned back on us, has groaned, has suffered. The Earth is the mother of all species. We make each other suffer and we make our mother suffer. These earthquakes are bells of mindfulness. The pain of one part of humankind is the pain of the whole of humankind. We have to see that and wake up.”

Share

Diamonds and Doubts

In Ian Fleming’s fourth James Bond thriller, Diamonds are Forever, M., the crusty chief of MI6, tells 007 that diamonds are “the hardest substance in the world. Last forever.”  Marilyn Monroe famously told us, through the lyrics of Leo Robin, “A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.” Malcolm Forbes once put the stones in their proper perspective when he stated, “Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs.”

The Vajra symbol

Buddhism has its own take on this gem first worn as a jewel in India some 5,000 years ago. In Buddha-dharma, the diamond, or vajra, represents the highest level of transcendent wisdom or prajna-paramita. The English word “diamond,” by the way, comes from the ancient Greek adamas meaning “unbreakable.” Because diamonds are so hard that they cannot be broken, and they are so sharp that they can cut through almost anything, transcendent or diamond wisdom is said to cut through all delusions.

Vajra also represents Indra’s thunderbolt, however, it is with the connotation of diamond that the word is most commonly used in Buddhist texts. The diamond is the symbol of the Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra or the “Diamond Cutter Transcendent Wisdom Sutra.”

Delusions are plentiful and varied, and doubt is one. Doubt is an obstacle, a hindrance, a mental fetter, and the “prajna diamond” cuts off doubts. That’s one interpretation of the Diamond Sutra taught by Han Shan, the Chinese Buddhist scholar from the Ming Dynasty, [1. “The Diamond Cutter of Doubts,” translated by Lu K’uan Yu (Charles Luk), Ch’an and Zen Teaching Volume 1, Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1993]

The full title Diamond Prajna-paramita indicates the teaching expounded in this sutra which aims at revealing the Buddha’s Diamond Mind. Moreover, this Diamond Mind was the fundamental mind of the Buddha in His practice, as a cause, resulting in His enlightenment, as an effect  . . . he taught Bodhisattavas to use the Diamond Mind as a cause in their practice so that they could enter the initial door of Mahayana. This is why he purposely taught them to cut off their doubts (about it).”

Doubt as it is used here does not refer to doubt about the dharma, but doubt about oneself, in particular, doubt regarding one’s own “diamond mind.” Chih-i said, “When doubt veils the mind, it is difficult to open any dharma doors.”

When we harbor doubts about ourselves, about our mind’s capacity to grow and learn, and find purpose, and happiness, we’re not able to progress very far in Buddhist practice, let alone in life. It’s important that we try to summon up confidence in the knowledge that our very mind is Buddha, that our mind has the potential to shine brightly like a diamond, and with that confidence we make it hard and resistant to suffering, and sharp, so that it can cut through our doubts and delusions.

One way to dealing with doubt is handle it in the same manner we deal with errant thoughts in meditation. When doubtful thoughts arise, simply label them as doubts, and then move on confidently. For as Norman Fischer paraphrases Dogen, [2. Dogen’s Time Being (Uji) 1, sweepingzen.com]

“So though people commonly have doubts about things that they can’t be entirely sure of, in fact, they can’t even tell whether a doubt that they had in the past, or even a doubt that they had a moment ago, is the same as the doubt that they have now.  And so, they should be doubtful about their doubting – not as certain of it as they so often seem to be.  Doubt is doubt for the time being.  Nothing more.  Doubt itself is time.”

I say that the time being is the perfect time to lay doubts about oneself aside and advance confidently along the Buddha Way.

———————-

Share

“Forgiveness is a sign of strength”

Last Friday at Western Connecticut State University, in Danbury, CT, the Dalai Lama gave a one-hour public talk titled “Advice for Daily Life.” The Buddhist Examiner reports that he said in part,

Forgiveness does not mean bowing down to others who have wronged you . . . It means not letting negative feeling toward the wrongdoing increase fear and distance . . . Forgiveness is a sign of strength. Anger is a sign of weakness.”

This is simple advice. It is the sort of practical guidance that any person regardless of their religion or outlook at life can benefit from, and actually, it only should serve as a reminder, since most of us already know that anger is destructive and forgiveness sublime.

“Anger destroys virtue.” – Dalai Lama

By the way, for anyone dealing with the issue of anger in his or her life, I recommend the Dalai Lama’s book, Healing Anger, which is based on a teaching he gave on Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara (“A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life”). It”s a very useful book, and I’ll discuss a bit more about Shantideva’s text below.

While there are many traditional Buddhist teachings that discuss the subject of anger, I am not aware of any that deal directly with the concept of forgiveness. Ksamate and kshaamati are two Sanskrit words that have the meaning “forgive.” Kshaamati is related to another word, khamati (also Pali) that according to the A.P. Buddhadatta Mahathera’s Concise Pali-English and English-Pali Dictionary means “to be patient, to endure, to forgive; to forgive a fault,” although it seems that it is used most often in the sense of “apology.”

Khamati is related to kshanti or “patience, endurance and forgiveness.” This word appears quite frequently in Buddhist teachings, especially in Mahayana, because kshanti is one of the Six Paramitas (or Perfections) that is a crucial part of the path of the Bodhisattva.

Perhaps the definitive text concerning this path is the aforementioned Bodhicaryavatara by Shantideva. Many consider the chapter on the practice of patience (kshanti-paramita) the most important chapter of the book.

The paramita of patience encompasses the ideal of forgiveness. In verse 102 of the Patience chapter [1. A guide to the bodhisattva way of life (Bodhicaryavatara) by Santideva. Vesna A. Wallace and B. Alan Wallace, Snow Lion Publications] Shantideva says,

It is wrong to feel anger toward someone, thinking that person impedes my merit. As there is no austerity equal to patience, shall I not abide in that?”

And in verse 107:

Therefore, since my adversary assists me in my Bodhisattva way of life, I should long for him like a treasure discovered in the house and acquired without effort.”

Thich Nhat Hanh says that with the practice of patience, the kshanti-paramita, “what has made you suffer in the past is no longer capable of making you suffer anymore.”

If no person ever did us wrong, injured or slighted us, then we would never have the opportunity to practice patience, or for that matter compassion. For this reason, we can say that our so-called adversaries are “helpful.” They afford us the opening through which to win over ourselves, to destroy the seeds of our own desire to cause harm, to resent others, and to hate. To be grateful toward one who has hurt us, I think, implies, and requires, a great deal of forgiveness.

Until recently there was no scientific research on the power of forgiveness. Now, thanks to folks like A Campaign for Forgiveness Research, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, and others, a number of forgiveness studies have been completed that have looked into the role of forgiveness in such areas as reducing heart disease, preventing crime, healing troubled marriages, and even how forgiveness was a factor in rebuilding South Africa after apartheid.

Dr. Fred Luskin, Senior Consultant in Health Promotion at Stanford University, who has conducted his own studies, says that forgiveness can be learned, and that

Our research has also shown that forgiveness has physical health benefits. People who learn to forgive report significantly fewer symptoms of stress such as backache, muscle tension, dizziness, headaches and upset stomachs. In addition people report improvements in appetite, sleep patterns, energy and general well being. Finally, one research project showed that angry people with high blood pressure showed a decrease in both anger and blood pressure when they were taught to forgive.”

Forgiveness is not easy, but as I have heard the Dalai Lama say, it is rather foolish not to practice it. We might harbor anger and resentment toward someone who has harmed us, carrying all the heavy negative emotion around until it weighs us down, until we are unable to move from that place of hate and anger. Meanwhile the person who we viewed as our “adversary” has gone on, and likely forgotten about all about us, and our petty antagonism.

Forgiveness is the perfection of patience, the practice of loving-kindness, a way to freedom:

‘He insulted me, he hurt me, he defeated me, and he deprived me.’ Those who do not harbor such thoughts will be free from hatred.

Buddha, The Dhammapada

———————-

Share

Anger and Forgiveness

Last Friday at Western Connecticut State University, in Danbury, CT, the Dalai Lama gave a one-hour public talk titled “Advice for Daily Life.” The Buddhist Examiner reports that he said in part,

Forgiveness does not mean bowing down to others who have wronged you . . . It means not letting negative feeling toward the wrongdoing increase fear and distance . . . Forgiveness is a sign of strength. Anger is a sign of weakness.”

This is simple advice. It is the sort of practical guidance that any person regardless of their religion or outlook at life can benefit from, and actually, it only should serve as a reminder, since most of us already know that anger is destructive and forgiveness sublime.

“Anger destroys virtue.” – Dalai Lama

By the way, for anyone dealing with the issue of anger in his or her life, I recommend the Dalai Lama’s book, Healing Anger, which is based on a teaching he gave on Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara (“A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life”). It”s a very useful book, and I’ll discuss a bit more about Shantideva’s text below.

While there are many traditional Buddhist teachings that discuss the subject of anger, I am not aware of any that deal directly with the concept of forgiveness. Ksamate and kshaamati are two Sanskrit words that have the meaning “forgive.” Kshaamati is related to another word, khamati (also Pali) that according to the A.P. Buddhadatta Mahathera’s Concise Pali-English and English-Pali Dictionary means “to be patient, to endure, to forgive; to forgive a fault,” although it seems that it is used most often in the sense of “apology.”

Khamati is related to kshanti or “patience, endurance and forgiveness.” This word appears quite frequently in Buddhist teachings, especially in Mahayana, because kshanti is one of the Six Paramitas (or Perfections) that is a crucial part of the path of the Bodhisattva.

Perhaps the definitive text concerning this path is the aforementioned Bodhicaryavatara by Shantideva. Many consider the chapter on the practice of patience (kshanti-paramita) the most important chapter of the book.

The paramita of patience encompasses the ideal of forgiveness. In verse 102 of the Patience chapter [1. A guide to the bodhisattva way of life (Bodhicaryavatara) by Santideva, Vesna A. Wallace and B. Alan Wallace, Snow Lion Publications] Shantideva says,

It is wrong to feel anger toward someone, thinking that person impedes my merit. As there is no austerity equal to patience, shall I not abide in that?”

And in verse 107:

Therefore, since my adversary assists me in my Bodhisattva way of life, I should long for him like a treasure discovered in the house and acquired without effort.”

Thich Nhat Hanh says that with the practice of patience, the kshanti-paramita, “what has made you suffer in the past is no longer capable of making you suffer anymore.”

If no person ever did us wrong, injured or slighted us, then we would never have the opportunity to practice patience, or for that matter compassion. For this reason, we can say that our so-called adversaries are “helpful.” They afford us the opening through which to win over ourselves, to destroy the seeds of our own desire to cause harm, to resent others, and to hate. To be grateful toward one who has hurt us, I think, implies, and requires, a great deal of forgiveness.

Until recently there was no scientific research on the power of forgiveness. Now, thanks to folks like A Campaign for Forgiveness Research, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, and others, a number of forgiveness studies have been completed that have looked into the role of forgiveness in such areas as reducing heart disease, preventing crime, healing troubled marriages, and even how forgiveness was a factor in rebuilding South Africa after apartheid.

Dr. Fred Luskin, Senior Consultant in Health Promotion at Stanford University, who has conducted his own studies, says that forgiveness can be learned, and that

Our research has also shown that forgiveness has physical health benefits. People who learn to forgive report significantly fewer symptoms of stress such as backache, muscle tension, dizziness, headaches and upset stomachs. In addition people report improvements in appetite, sleep patterns, energy and general well being. Finally, one research project showed that angry people with high blood pressure showed a decrease in both anger and blood pressure when they were taught to forgive.”

Forgiveness is not easy, but as I have heard the Dalai Lama say, it is rather foolish not to practice it. We might harbor anger and resentment toward someone who has harmed us, carrying all the heavy negative emotion around until it weighs us down, until we are unable to move from that place of hate and anger. Meanwhile the person who we viewed as our “adversary” has gone on, and likely forgotten about all about us, and our petty antagonism.

Forgiveness is the perfection of patience, the practice of loving-kindness, a way to freedom:

‘He insulted me, he hurt me, he defeated me, and he deprived me.’ Those who do not harbor such thoughts will be free from hatred.

Buddha, The Dhammapada

——————–

Share

The Mantra of Light

In Monday’s post on Priest Myoe, mention was made of the Mantra of Light, and I thought it would be interesting to delve into this a little. Since people with differing backgrounds in Buddhism read this blog, I’ll start with a few basics.

The Mantra of Light was transmitted to Japan by Kukai of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. Shingon is an esoteric tradition that combines a number of different doctrines and philosophies and is a tough one to sum up in a few words. However, I think Junjiro Takakusa, managed to do just that in his book, The Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy:

Shingon or ‘true word’ is a translation of the Sanskrit ‘mantra’ which means a ‘mystic doctrine’ that cannot be expressed in ordinary words. The doctrine which has been expressed in the Buddha’s words should be distinguished from the ideal which was conceived in the Buddha’s mind but not expressed in words.”

This is the basic idea behind all Shingon teachings. This school uses various mantras, mandalas, meditations, and rituals in their practice. It can safely be said that Shingon is related to Tantric Buddhism or the Vajrayana branch. Today, Shingon is a rather small school in Japan, but it had a tremendous influence on Japanese Buddhism at one time. Kukai (774-834), the founder of Japanese Shingon, is one of the most important figures in Japanese Buddhism.

Now, let’s take a look at mantra itself. The Sanskrit word “mantra” is comprised of the root “man” from manas or mind and “tra” meaning instrument or tool. Literally, then, an “instrument of mind.” Lama Govinda, who wrote an extremely valuable book on the subject of mantra, The Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism, defines the word as “to protect the mind.” He says further:

Mantras are not ‘spells’ . . . [They] do not act on account of their own ‘magic’ nature, but only through the mind that experiences them. They do not posses any power of their own; they are only the means for concentrating already existing forces – just as a magnifying glass, though it does not contain any heat of its own, is able to concentrate the rays of the sun and to transform their mild warmth into incandescent heat . . .

Their ‘secret’ is not something that is hidden intentionally, but something that has to be acquired by self-disciple, concentration, inner experience, and insight.

This may not be exactly what mantra has meant to Shingon Buddhists historically, but I think it is a good contemporary understanding.

So, the Mantra of Light: om amogha vairocana mahamudra manipadma jvala pravarttaya hum. (Japanese: On abokya beiroshano makabodara mani handoma jimbara harabaritaya un.)

Some readers may be able to pick out a few of the Sanskrit words: Om, the seed syllable of the universe; amogha, spotless, without a tinge of impurity; vairocana, the celestial buddha who represents the bliss body of the historical Buddha; mahamudra, the great seal or symbol of the Buddha; manipadma, jewel and lotus; and hum, a seed syllable with no literal meaning but quite a few associations that is frequently the last syllable of a mantra.

John Stevens (Sacred Calligraphy of the East) translated the mantra as “Infallible brilliance of the great mudra! Creating the radiance of the Jewel and the Lotus.” Professor Mark Unno (Shingon Refractions: Myoe and the Mantra of Light) has it as “Praise be to the flawless, all-pervasive illumination of the great mudra. Turn over to me the jewel, lotus, and radiant light.”

The mantra comes from the Amoghapasakalparaja-sutra or “Sutra of the Mantra of the Unfailing Rope Snare of the Buddha Vairocana’s Great Baptism.” Although, as I mentioned above, the mantra was brought to Japan by Kukai, apparently he did not practice it, and the mantra was not popular until it was championed by Myoe  in the 13th century.

The earth and sand of the Mantra of Light constitute the great secret dharma of all Buddhas. The Mantra of Light spreads through the world and protects all people, lay and ordained.

– Myoe

The Mantra of Light in Siddham script.

Profession Unno, who translated the quote from Myoe, writes:

The first existing references to this practice, which originated in India in the early history of Mahayana Buddhism, can be found in a Chinese translation made by Bodhiruci, a monk of northern Indian birth of the sixth century . . .

The same scriptural translation contains a curious reference to sand: One can transfer the power of [celestial] buddhas . . .  to the sand by chanting the mantra and infusing grains of sand with its power. Furthermore, this sand has the power to cure illnesses, if, for example, its grains are simply placed near the head of the bedridden. Even after people have died, one can sprinkle sand on their corpses or graves, and the power of the mantra will then reach the deceased, purify their karma, and lead them to birth in the Pure Land . . .

The practice of sprinkling the sand of the bodies of deceased persons is called dosha-kaji or “blessing of sacred sand.”

Obviously, this seems to belie Lama Govinda’s assertion that mantras are not magic spells. Nonetheless, as is the case with all mantras, emptiness is the mantra’s foundation. All beings and things are equally empty of any “own-being” or “thingness,” and that being the case, all beings and things are thereby equal. This ties in with Myoe’s concept, discussed in Monday’s post, that beings and inanimate objects are identical or non-differentiated from each other. This applies to mantras as well, which can be viewed as being identical to the person employing the mantra, and/or the person, celestial being, or mandala receiving the mantra.

Share