Sans Traces

Noting another birthday, today it’s the great Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, born May 18, 1904 in Kanagawa Prefecture Japan, died December 4, 1971, San Francisco, CA.

His classic work, Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind is an invaluable source of guidance for both beginning Buddhists (or those merely curious) and experienced dharma practitioners.  You can open it to any page and find a gem of insight, a pearl of wisdom.  Here is what I found on page 47:

Suzuki2016b2Most people have a double or triple notion in one activity. There is a saying, ‘To catch two birds with one stone.’ That is what people usually try to do. Because they want to catch too many birds they find it difficult to be concentrated on one activity, and they may end up not catching any birds at all! That kind of thinking always leaves its shadow on their activity. The shadow is not actually the thinking itself. Of course it is often necessary to think or prepare before we act. But right thinking does not leave any shadow. Thinking which leaves traces comes out of your relative confused mind. Relative mind is the mind which sets itself in relation to other things, thus limiting itself. It is this small mind which creates gaining ideas and leaves traces of itself.”

And so, it is the larger more spacious mind that we want to actualize.  This is what The Diamond Sutra is talking about, developing a mind that is apratishtita, a Sanskrit word that, as I have noted before, means “unsupported” or non-abiding.

In the sutra, the Buddha tells Venerable Subhuti that a “Bodhisattva should have an unsupported mind, that is, a mind which is nowhere supported, with thoughts unsupported by sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, or mind-objects.”  If we catching birds, our mind is unsupported by the idea of birds, our thoughts are as open and wide as the sky.

A mind that does not dwell anywhere and leaves no trace.

Before the chapter, “No Trace” is over, on page 49, Suzuki says,

When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.”

More posts concerning Shunryu Suzuki here.

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The Diamond Sutra in La-La-Land

“In La-La Land We Trust.”
– Robert Campbell

There’s a new exhibition opening tomorrow at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, Cave Temples Of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art On China’s Silk Road:

library-cave-2On the western edge of the Gobi Desert, near the ancient oasis town of Dunhuang, China, hundreds of cave temples were carved into a cliff face and decorated with Buddhist wall paintings and sculptures. [“Library” cave shown right.] The caves are known as the Mogao (peerless) Grottoes. From the 4th to the 14th century, Dunhuang bore witness to intense religious, commercial, and cultural exchange along the trade routes linking the East and West, known collectively as the Silk Road. The documents and artifacts discovered in the site’s famed Library Cave, along with the paintings and sculptures found in almost 500 other caves, focus primarily on Buddhism. They also tell tales of the merchants, monks, and ruling families who lived, worked, and worshipped in the Dunhuang region.”

The exhibition is collaboration with the Dunhuang Academy and the Dunhuang Foundation and will feature rare objects from the caves, cave replicas, along with Cave 45 described as a “virtual immersive experience.”  One of the 43 manuscripts included is The Diamond Sutra, the world’s oldest complete printed book, currently on loan from the British Library.

I’ve written a number of posts that deal with this indispensible Mahayana Buddhist teaching that you can find here.

But an even better resource is a book by Joyce Morgan and Conrad Walters, Journeys on the Silk Road: A Desert Explorer, Buddha’s Secret Library, and the Unearthing of the World’s Oldest Printed Book that tells the fascinating story of Aurel Stein (and his dog, Dash), an archaeologist, who traveled along the Silk Road through India, Tibet, and China in search of relics for the British Museum. It details his various expeditions, the friendships made, the politics and intrigue encountered, and the artifacts he discovered, one being the oldest printed copy of the Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra.

On the surface, The Diamond Sutra seems difficult to understand, but when we read between the lines we find that, as Thich Nhat Hanh notes in The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion, “The sutra is so deep and wonderful.  It has its own language.  The first Western scholars who obtained the text thought it was talking nonsense.  It’s language seems mysterious, but when you look deeply, you can understand.”

In the Morgan and Walters book, Paul Harrison, Professor of Religious Studies at Stanford University, compares the sutra to a “piece of music that must be heard to be appreciated or a play that needs to be witnessed”  but if you approach the text as you would a novel “with a logical mind expecting things to be done in sequence and no repetitions to occur, it seems very weird.”

Subhuti, what do you think?  Has the Buddha attained the supreme awakening? Has he something he can teach?”

Subhuti said, “World Honored One, as I understand the dharma of the Buddha, the Buddha has no doctrine to covey.  The truth is ungraspable and inexpressible.  It neither is nor is not.  How is it so?  Because all noble teachers are exalted by the unconditioned.”

[Based on the Mu Soeng translation]

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Protection against Ghosts and Demons

I meant to post this around Halloween . . .

The quote is from Dr. Terry Clifford’s Tibetan Buddhist Medicine and Psychiatry, a book that many think is one of the best on the subject of Tibetan Medicine:

Compassion is also understood to be a supreme medicine and protection against ghosts and demons. For according to Dharma psychology, when we try to reject something, we actually become more vulnerable to it. We come to realize this through the practice of meditation and watching the mind. We let unconscious material surface without rejecting or identifying with it. And thus it begins to lose its power over us.”

gb-1Clifford says that to the Tibetans, demons are symbolic.  They can represent negative emotions, mental afflictions.

I’ve wrestled with a few demons. Haven’t you? Ghosts, though, not so much.

When Clifford writes about trying to reject something, this can be the reverse side to attachment. In Buddhism, we normally use the word aversion in the context of anger and hatred, but aversion can also mean “rejection,” a strong dislike, a prejudice against someone or something – as detrimental to our well-being as seizing and clinging.

How does this attitude link to compassion? The Diamond Sutra tells us to cultivate a “non-discriminating mind.” The Buddha says that compassion requires one to free the mind of concepts, give to others with no thought of self or gain, cease making distinctions between beings who are worthy or unworthy, and ultimately, to consider that “when vast and immeasurable numbers of beings have been liberated, actually there is not any being liberated.”

Why is this? The Buddha in the Diamond Sutra tell us it is because “no compassionate person who is truly compassionate holds to the idea of a self, a being, or a separate individual.”

That explanation is teaching compassion from the ultimate truth. From the relative view, because there are others, there can be compassion. And compassion is good medicine, an antidote to self-cherishing, negative emotions and mental afflictions.

Keep in mind this from Lama Zopa Rinpoche, found in Ultimate Healing:

A loving, compassionate person heals others simply by existing. Wherever they are, compassionate people are healing, because they do everything they can to help others with their body, speech and mind. Merely being near a compassionate person heals us because it brings us peace and happiness.”

– – – – – – – – – –

Photo from The Ghost Breakers (1940): Bob Hope & Paulette Goddard

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All That Noise

I saw a commercial on TV the other day that said,

Financial noise is everywhere. Tune it out with intentional investing from Invesco. And separate knowledge from noise.”

noise1 I thought this is close to what we’re trying to do with meditation and dharma. Noise is everywhere. It’s spiritually deafening at times. The kind of noise I mean is desire, illusion, attachment, stress, worry, anticipation, disappointment, fun, sorrow – noise is all the stuff we deal with in daily life. But we can tune out all that noise, turn off the static.

The commercial mentions knowledge, but we’re not too interested in that. I saw something recently, and dash if I can find it now when I need it, but I think it was the Buddha who said that when some practitioners encounter obstacles, they revert to intellectual comprehension. He meant that empirical and theoretical knowledge is not the best path for wayfarers. We want to travel on the way of Transcendent Wisdom (Prajna-Paramita), which “goes beyond” knowledge. In the Diamond Sutra, Transcendent Wisdom is likened to a diamond blade that cuts through all the noise to reveal the true aspect of all phenomena.

And that’s why, in the sutra the Buddha says,

Subhuti, this teaching should be known as the Diamond of Transcendent Wisdom – this is how you should receive and hold it. And why? Because the diamond of transcendent wisdom has the capacity to cut through illusions and go beyond to the further shore. Yet, this teaching the Buddha has called the diamond of transcendent wisdom is not really the diamond of transcendent wisdom. ‘Diamond of transcendent wisdom’ is just the name given to it.”

We can receive and hold the teaching, but it will not help us to go beyond if we cling to it. Use it, but don’t grasp it. In the Zen tradition, which was significantly influenced by Taoism, this was known as “not-knowing.” In The Diamond Sutra Transforming the Way We Perceive the World, Mu Soeng explains

Not-knowing is the intuitive wisdom where one understands information to be just that – mere information – and tries to penetrate to the heart of the mystery that language and information are trying to convey . . . The not-knowing approach is not a philosophical or intellectual entertainment; it is a doorway to liberation.” (p.64)

I didn’t have a clue to what intentional investing was so I Googled it. The company describes it this way: “At Invesco, all of our people and all of our resources are dedicated to helping investors achieve their financial objectives. It’s a philosophy we call Intentional Investing.”

At Buddha-dharma all our bodhisattvas and all of our teachings are dedicated to helping people achieve liberation through Transcendent Wisdom. It’s a philosophy we call bodhicitta or intentional cultivation.

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A Mind of Winter

Winter is once more upon us. Here in Southern California, winter is a relative concept. And a capricious season, to the extreme. For instance the past week we had weather that was winterlike and very cozy.  But this week the temperatures are expected to be in the high 70s, hitting maybe 80 on Christmas Eve. Since I lived the early part of my life in the Midwest, I have a vague recollection of what winter is supposed to be, and today I like to celebrate that memory with poetry.

Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens’ poem The Snow Man is about winter, and it is also about nothing, not in a literal sense, though it can be read that way, particularly as the primary subject of winter very easily conjures up images of bleakness, nihilistic and natural emptiness. But according to William W. Bevis in his book, Mind of Winter: Wallace Stevens, Meditation, and Literature, Stevens was writing about “meditative descriptions of nothing (Buddhist voidness), with the thing itself meditatively perceived . . .” The poem is indeed Buddhistic and Stevens was familiar with some Buddhist teaching, but it was more likely inspired and modeled after his mentor’s teachings. That mentor being a certain George Santayana.

For me, what Wallace means with “One must have a mind of winter” is something similar to the kind of mind described in the Diamond Sutra, a mind that is “unsupported.” This is an English equivalent to a Sanskrit word, apratishtita, that according to Mu Soeng in The Diamond Sutra: Transforming the Way We Perceive the World, “mirrors the core message of the Diamond Sutra.”

In the sutra, the Buddha tells Venerable Subhuti that a “Bodhisattva should have an unsupported mind, that is, a mind which is nowhere supported, with thoughts unsupported by sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, or mind-objects.”

A mind that is unsupported is “a mind not focusing on anything,” or “caught up in anything,” a mind that does not dwell anywhere. This is not our normal mind, or is it? Buddhism teaches that the quiet, unsupported mind, freed from all attachments and functioning harmoniously, is our natural mind, and that it is a state of mind cultivated, or rather, rediscovered only through meditation.

A meditative practice provides us with that “bare place” where for a short space in time, which is the timelessness of the present, we can be unsupported, not caught up in anything nor dwelling anywhere in particular, but entering into a disposition akin to Stevens’ mind of winter, as does the listener, standing in the silent, divestiture of winter, the white space of snow . . .

I’m afraid that further explanation may spoil the poem’s effect for first time readers. So now that I have given you a rough idea of how I interpret The Snow Man, here is the poem written in 1921 by one of the great modern American poets, a man who spent his most of his life working for the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company in Hartford, Connecticut.

The Snow Man

snowman3One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Wallace Stevens

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