Everything is Buddha

I am not a Zen Buddhist but I am a follower, more or less, of one of its greatest teachers, Dogen, who introduced Zen (Ch’an) to Japan in the form of the Soto school.   He lived during the Kamakura period (1192–1333), the Medieval era in which “original awakening” (hongaku) was a core concept in Japanese Buddhism.

Tibetan monk staring at Buddha.

Original awakening refers to the fundamental nature of enlightenment native to all human beings and the external world, and is closely related to the idea of Buddha-nature. Some time back, I ran across this description of original awakening which I think is pretty good: “[it] means that everything, without exception and without alteration, is already full-blown Buddha. Ignorance? Buddha. Wisdom? Buddha. The leaf, the blossom…”  You, me, our enemies, friends, the wind, mountains… all Buddhas.

A famous Zen anecdote, “Mazu’s ‘Mind is Buddha,” goes like this:

Damei once asked Master Mazu, “What is buddha?” Mazu answered, “Mind is buddha.”  Commenting on this, master Wumen said, “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.”

Everything, everyone is Buddha.  It seems to me that there is no other religious philosophy other than Buddhism that has such a concept where there is absolutely no separation between the ordinary person and the ultimate reality.  You cannot become God, Jesus, the Prophet – you can be Buddha.  Here, the ultimate reality is everything.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states. “Zen aims at a perfection of personhood.”  This is it exactly.  Buddha is not a god or a psychedelic spiritual being but an ordinary person who has realized wisdom within.  A Buddha has “perfected” his or her person so that thoughts and actions are based on positive virtues as opposed to negative emotions.  And it goes further than that, a Buddha is a whole person.

If you want more detailed information about this concept and its development, see these posts.

In my less than educated view (I am not a Dogen scholar) original enlightenment is the notion underlining Dogen’s concept of the “oneness of practice and enlightenment” (shusho-itto or shusho ichi-nyo).  In his essay, Bendowa (“On Practicing the Way of Buddhas”), Dogen says,

“The view that practice and enlightenment are not one is a non-Buddhist view.  In the Buddha-dharma they are one.  Inasmuch as practice is based on enlightenment, the practice of a beginner is entirely that of original enlightenment.  Therefore, in giving the instruction for practice, a Zen teacher should advise his or her disciples not to seek enlightenment apart from practice, for practice itself is original enlightenment.  Because it is already enlightenment of practice, there is no end to enlightenment; because it is already practice of enlightenment, there is no beginning to practice.”

When we factor in the inseparability of all things, non-duality, then “oneness of practice and enlightenment” is fairly easy to understand.  “Oneness of practice and enlightenment” is an original concept, nonetheless it marks a further development of the traditional Buddhist view that meditation is the sole way leading to the transcendence of suffering, and to awakening.  Meditation is the heart of Buddhism.  Without it, there is no Buddhism.

Having Buddhahood within does us no good unless we make an effort to actualize it. Meditation is our tool for this endeavor, although Dogen might object to calling it a tool.

Francis H. Cook, Associate Professor at the University of California Riverside and author of a number of books on Buddhism, makes this important point about Dogen’s concept:

“[The]  relationship  between   practice  and  attainment  as  Dogen  understood   it:  practice  is  not  a  means  to  enlightenment  or  attainment,  but  is  that  which  measures, or  actualizes,  one’s already  existent enlightenment.   In   fact, says  Dogen,  zazen  [meditation] practice is  enlightenment.”*

While Dogen was adamant about meditation being the essence of Buddha-dharma, we should keep in mind that “practice” is not always limited to sitting.  What we do after we get up from the meditation cushion is also practice.  It is crucial that we apply the realizations we gain from meditation to our daily life.  Good behavior is a reflection of sincere practice.  If the aim is to perfect our humanness, to become better people, daily life is where we find the fruits of our labor.  Meditation is not a means to escape the world but rather to see the world as it truly is, without illusion.

When Buddha awakened beneath the Bodhi Tree, it was not some mystical experience, rather the culmination of years of effort.  Awakening is a process.  Meditation was the “tool” the Buddha used to wake up to the awakening of every thing and see the unfolding of everything into enlightenment.  Meditation is the practice we practice in the midst of original awakening.

“[Buddha] said, at this moment all beings and I awaken together. So it was not just him. It was all the universe. He touched the earth. ‘As earth is my witness. Seeing this morning star, all things and I awaken together.‘”
– Jane Hirshfield, poet 

– – – – – – – – – –

Enlightenment in Dogen’s Zen, Francis H. Cook, The Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, Volume6, 1983, Number 1
Cook also translated the passage from Bendowa

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Beyond Religion

Today’s entry incorporates material from several previous posts.

In “The Dalai Lama: A Policy of Kindness”edited by Sidney Piburn, the Dalai Lama is quoted as saying,

“Buddhism does not accept a theory of God, or a creator. According to Buddhism, one’s own actions are the creator, ultimately. Some people say that, from a certain angle, Buddhism is not a religion but rather a science of mind.”

Several times during recent years, the Dalai Lama has also expressed his dissatisfaction with religion as a whole, suggesting that “the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.”

Well, religion has never been adequate, and Buddhism was never intended to be a religion. Buddha was not a religious figure. He wasn’t a god, a miracle worker, a faith healer, nor was he a prophet like Isaiah or Muhammad, or a law-bringer in the way Moses was – he was a meditation teacher, an itinerant philosopher. The spiritual tradition he belonged to, the sramanas, was not a religious movement, it was outside of religion, and it seems the Buddha was critical of the established religion of his day, with its reliance on ritual, incantations, and prophecies, and he rejected the authority of the priests.

The Buddha’s message was not religious, either. He said, everyone has problems, and if you want to learn how to deal with your problems more effectively and perhaps even overcome the sufferings your problems bring, then once or twice a day, sit down, be still, and calm your mind. That’s not a particularly religious message. It’s a very practical message. After all, what is the best thing to do when we have a problem? Rush out willy-nilly, higgly-piggly, and try to affect a solution? No, it’s best to sit down, think the problem through, calmly, maybe analyze the causes for the problem, and then work out a solution. It’s the same principal in Buddhism, only we are dealing with deeper levels of the mind.

The Buddha did not direct the attention of his followers toward some higher, holier being but rather toward their own human nature, their inner-being, their mind.  Buddha was not concerned about the existence of gods, or speculation about how the world was made. He was concerned only with the question of how to solve human problems, how to relieve suffering.

And he asked his followers not to worship him. He expressly forbade them from revering his relics. That’s why for several centuries no representations of the Buddha were used, only images of a footprint, an empty seat, the Wheel of Dharma, a Bodhi leaf, and so on. But human beings, being what they are just couldn’t help themselves and made Buddhism a religion and Buddha a god.

Non-Buddhists, when trying to get a handle on what Buddhism is about, are often confused because they try to analyze Buddha-dharma from a religious perspective.  They are unable to fathom the idea of not having a supreme being to rely on and answer prayers.  This is perfectly natural, but not helpful.

Buddhism begins with the premise that religion is not adequate. Buddhism has always been beyond religion.  Buddhism does not really fit any category we have in the West.  It has religious elements; it is a discipline, a philosophy, a way of life, a way of mind, a path, a Way but most of all, Buddhism is beyond religion.

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Hiatus and Judging

It’s been a while.  Since I began this blog in 2010 this is the longest I’ve gone without posting.  I’m on hiatus, and I plan to stay that way.

No particular reason.  Just don’t have much to say.

On the health front, the latest round of tests show that my cancer has not changed.  It seems to be in a holding pattern right now.  Good.  What’s not so good is the lymphedema or swelling in my legs, which, like metastatic cancer, is incurable.  I’ll spare you the details and just say that the fluid has reached both legs and greatly inhibits my mobility.

I did want to comment about something today…

One of the things we see in Trump’s abnormal behavior that doesn’t seem to get talked about a lot is the way he judges people.  I suppose it gets lost in the nastiest of his jibes.  But when he calls someone a “slime ball,” “crooked,” or “lying,” he’s judging a person’s character, their worth.  Judgments of this sort stem from negative emotions and mental tendencies.  It is not the way for a responsible adult to behave, and furthermore, it sets a bad example for adults and ‘younger people.  It is just one of the many ways in which Trump’s behavior is inappropriate for a person occupying the highest office in the land and another reason why he shouldn’t be there.

“Love is the absence of judgment.” – Dalai Lama

He is trying to define others, define who they are, but what folks with judgmental minds don’t seem to understand is that they are really defining who they are, showing us their true character.

Judging others is a cause for suffering.  Not theirs, ours.  The Buddha taught that judging others prevents us from discovering truth because the judgmental mind prevents understanding and the accumlation of wisdom.

When we analyze the situation from the standpoint of Buddha-dharma, we find that it links with Nagarjuna’s concept of the “emptiness of views.”  In the way I am framing this discussion, judgment, the act of judging others, is nothing more than a view, an opinion.

Venkata Ramanan, in Nagarjuna’s Philosophy, writes,

To abandon [views] is to give up the claim of completeness in regard to what is only fragmentary.  [All] views owe [their] being to lack of ‘direct, unimpeded comprehension of the true nature of things…’  This becomes practically the central point in the philosophy of Nagarjuna.’

If we unpack this statement literally, we see that while we may judge someone as a slimeball, but it’s doubful they are a total slimeball.  We’re merely expressing our opinion on a fragment of their overall character.

Ramanan goes on to say,

The rejection of views which is an essential point in the philosophy of the Middle Way means that no specific view, being specific, is limitless, and no view, being a view, is ultimate.  The ultimate view is not any ‘view.’  ‘Silence is the ultimate truth for the wise.

Trump’s judgmental mind and his unfortunate tweets are just examples of the growing negativity in our society and the way our civil discourse has become so uncivil.   We need to turn this around.

We can do our part by recognizing the worthlessness, the emptiness, of judging others, and we  can take our cue from Thich Nhat Hanh:

Do your best to practice compassionate listening.  Do not listen for the sole purpose of judging, criticizing, or analyzing. Listen only to help the other person express himself and find some relief from his suffering.

I think listening is a more valuable use of our time than criticizing and judging.  Don’t you?

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How Karma Works

Several days ago, I received a comment on an old post asking about the Buddhist concept of rebirth.  The author of the comment stated that he was confused about the notion of rebirth as it is based on the concept of “no- soul.”  If there is no soul, he asked, then how does our accumulated karma travel into the next life?

This is a frequently asked question, and a great subject of confusion.

First, we have a question of semantics.  What do we mean by when we say “no-soul?”  It refers to Buddhist doctrine that rejects the concept of atman (self, soul, ego) as a metaphysical reality that is eternal and independent.  In the West, we often call it the doctrine of “no-self,” “non-self,” or “no-soul.”  It also corresponds with svabhava, which denies that living things possess an intrinsic essence, nature, or being.

Now this does not deny the reality of the conventional sense of “I.”  You, me – I – does exist but only as a temporary combination of various elements, traits, inclinations, and physical characteristics.  This combination will disintegrate when we die.  Buddhism says we have a problem because we tend to fixate on “I” which leads to delusions, the root of sufferings.

I will point out that when we use terms such as “no-soul” or “no-ego,” we are applying atman to Western concepts that Buddha and the early Buddhist were not aware of, for these ideas did not exist in their world.  They did not have the same sense of self, soul, God, or religion as we have in the modern age.

In Living Buddha, Living Christ, Thich Nhat Hanh describes atman this way,

“Impermanence is the same as non-self. Since phenomena are impermanent, they do not possess a permanent identity.  Non-self is also emptiness.  Emptiness of what?  Empty of a permanent self.  Non-self means also interbeing.  Because everything is made of everything else, nothing can be by itself alone.  Non-self is also interpenetration, because everything contains everything else.  Non-self is also interdependence, because this is made of that.  Each thing depends on all other things to be. that is interdependence.  Nothing can be by itself alone.  It has to inter-be with all other things. That is non-self.”

When the Buddha awakened, he no longer saw reality as a compartmentalized realm where everything is separate.  Instead, he saw impermanence and interdependence.  Because of impermanence, nothing is permanent, eternal.  Because of interdependence, everything (everyone) is inter-connected.

Rebirth is also confusing.  Many people get it mixed up with reincarnation.  But reincarnation is not a Buddhist concept.  Reincarnation is the idea that the same soul or same person is reborn in successive bodies.  With this concept you could possibly remember past lives (but I doubt it).  Again, Buddhist philosophy rejects the notion of a soul or a self that is permanent.  You will never be reborn as the same person ever again.

What Buddhism teaches is rebirth, the cycle of birth and death. You may carry over into your next life some karma, or traces, of your former lives, but you will forever be a new, unique person with no real memory of the past.  If fact, according to Buddhist teachings, it’s very rare to remember a past life.

Zen teacher John Daido Loori says,

“The self is an idea, a mental construct…  That being the case, what is it that dies?  There is no question that when this physical body is no longer capable of functioning, the energies within it, the atoms and molecules it is made up of, don’t die with it.  They take on another form, another shape.  You can call that another life, but as there is no permanent, unchanging substance, nothing passes from one moment to the next.  Quite obviously, nothing permanent or unchanging can pass or transmigrate from one life to the next.  Being born and dying continues unbroken but changes every moment.”

Karma is based on intention.  Good intentions create good karma.  Bad intentions create negative karma.  But instead of focusing on the action aspect of karma, we should view karma as potential.  Karma is like mental seeds planted within the mind that have the potential to ripen and exert some sort of influence at a future time.  Awarness of this potential helps us make wiser choices.

Geshe Tashi Tsering in his book The Buddha’s Medicine for the Mind: Cultivating Wisdom and Compassion, explains further:

“This potential is a karmic seed, a seed planted in our mind by physical, verbal or mental action. The strength or depth of this seed is determined by a number of factors, including how strong our intention is, whether we clearly understand what we are doing, whether we act on our intention and whether the physical and verbal action is completed.”

Seeds will remain in the mind until they ripen or until they are destroyed.  Seeds left by negative mental events and actions are destroyed by applying the four opponent or antidotal powers (support, regret, resolve, and action as antidote).  The power of regret for the negative act, together with a firm resolve not to act that way again in the future, is said to be very effective in the purification of karma.

Accumulated Karma is merely the collection of karmic potential we have gathered up in our journey (or journeys) through life.  The karma seeds are “carried” through the cycle of birth and death via a stream of consciousness, a continuum of consciousness.

I’ll be the first to admit that the explanation is not entirely satisfactory.  It leaves some questions unanswered.  However, I don’t spend a great deal of time about it.  I don’t believe it is absolutely necessary to accept the notions of karma and rebirth in order to be a Buddhist.  But belief in and/or acceptance of karma and rebirth is a matter that goes beyond the scope of this post.  So, for today, it is enough to simply say… don’t worry, be happy.

After thirty years of Buddhist practice and study, I’ve learned that the most important thing is the first thing we’re all taught in the beginning.  The only thing that matters is the present moment, our present life.  We should be concerned with what we do in the present, in the timeless reality of now, and not what may, or may not, happen sometime in the future.

The conventional arises from afflictions and karma;
And karma arises from the mind;
Tendencies are accumulated in the mind;
When free from tendencies it’s happiness.

Nagarjuna, “Commentary on Awakening Mind” (Bodhicittavivarana)

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How to Become a Healing Buddha

Healing Buddha is the heart of the Tibetan healing tradition.  I’ve stripped the Healing Buddha teachings and practice down to some basics and fashioned a practice that is fairly simple and effective.  For me anyway.

The goal is to become a Healing Buddha.  This simply means to awaken all the healing qualities within you.  Practice involves visualization meditation and recitation of mantra.   It’s not absolutely necessary to do both, but both are there for you.

In Medicine Buddha Sadhana, scholar and teacher Thrangu Rinpoche has this to say,

“The primary technique in the meditation consists of imagining ourself to be the Medicine Buddha, conceiving of yourself as the Medicine Buddha.  By replacing the thought of yourself as yourself with the thought of yourself as the Medicine Buddha, you gradually counteract and remove the fixation on your personal self.  And as that fixation is removed, the power of the seventh consciousness is reduced.  And as it is reduced, the kleshas or mental afflictions are gradually weakened, which causes you to experience greater and greater well-being in both body and mind.”

Buddhism divides the mind into eight consciousnesses.  The first five consciousnesses correspond to our senses, the sixth to our thoughts, and the eighth is the base-consciousness, where all our potential energies are stored.

The 7th or mano-consciousness (mano = mind) bridges the conscious and sub-conscious realms of the mind.  There is where illusions, particularly our false idea of a “self” originate.

The Healing Buddha is imaginary, of course.  We use the Healing Buddha as a symbol, an archetype, an image-guide.  To become a Healing Buddha is to manifest our Buddha-nature, to fully active all our inner qualities of compassion and wisdom.

According to the sutras, the Healing Buddha made twelve aspirations or vows that practitioners are encouraged to pledge themselves.  However, for us it is enough to generate bodhicitta, the thought of awakening.  Bodhicitta represents the aspirations of all Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and sages.

Visualization is an essential part of Healing Buddha practice.  The theory behind visualization is that by creating a picture in the mind of an icon, image or symbol and using it for single-minded contemplation, facilitates the actualization of the qualities represented.  Obviously, it is healing, wholeness, and compassion which are some of the quantities Healing Buddha represents.

At home, I often focus on a hanging scroll dharma mandala I made that displays the seed symbol for the Healing Buddha (right).  When away from home I have a little card with an image of the Healing Buddha that I can use.  Or, no matter where I am, I can just close my eyes and visualize.

At this point, though, you might wonder why go to all the trouble of visualizing buddhas and symbols when to simply sit, focus on your breath, and allow feelings of loving-kindness to arise should suffice.  The breath is an object of meditation, no different from focusing on a mandala or visualizing Healing Buddha.  The advantage visualization provides is that it helps us tap into one of our most powerful inner forces, the imagination.

Imagination plays a critical role in the creating of the false sense of ‘self’ as well as other illusions.  Imagination is also said to rest in the 7th consciousness.  So, with visualization, we use imagination as a counter-force, to reduce the power of flawed thinking that hinders the development of our positive inner qualities.

Lama Govinda in Creative Meditation says that the “power of creative imagination is not merely content with observing the world as it is [and] accepting a given reality.”  So when we talk about “seeing the true aspect of reality” we don’t mean just the mundane reality of our phenomenal world.  It also means going beyond our ordinary awareness of things.  Concentration on a image produced by the mind adds a new dimension of absorption and engagement.  Visualization gives our tool of meditation a little more heft.

It’s said that the root of the Healing Buddha’s power is his great compassion.  We can interpret that to mean that healing power comes from developing our own great compassion.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche (Ultimate Healing) tells us,

“Compassion is the best healer.  The most powerful healing comes from developing compassion for all other living beings, irrespective of their race, nationality, religious belief, or relationship to us.”

Healing Buddha practice is not limited to sickness, injury or death.  The universality of the teachings and practice makes it a useful method for transforming the mind and transcending all forms of suffering.

Here is a simple Healing Buddha meditation to use.  It is based on Medicine Buddha Sadhana by Ngawang Losang Tenpa Gyältsän, translated by Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche.  The meditation can be done silently or while chanting the Healing Buddha mantra.

Visualize the Healing Buddha above the crown of your head.  Purifying rays of light pour down from the Healing Buddha’s heart and body, eliminating your sicknesses and afflictions, and their causes, all your negative thoughts and emotions.

Imagine your body completely filled with light, becoming clean and clear like crystal. Then visualize rays of this light radiating out in all directions, purifying the sicknesses and afflictions of all sentient beings.

Conclude the meditation and/or mantra chanting by visualizing the Healing Buddha melting into light which you absorb into your heart.

When I get into this whole-heartedly, it feels very powerful.

Healing Buddha Mantra: Tayatha Om Bekandze Bekandze Maha Bekandze Radza Samudgate Soha

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