Giving Up

Some people still consider Chogyam Trungpa a great teacher. I have never understood why. Trungpa was a teacher in the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism and highly controversial. I’ve always felt that he used (abused) the Tibetan concept of “crazy wisdom” so that he could misbehave. (I blogged about one notorious incident here.)

But recently ran across this Trungpa quote and I liked it:

In order to become Buddha you either have to give up the idea of Buddha or give up the idea of you.”

This is one of those paradoxical statements Buddhism is famous for, and it’s similar to the Zen saying, “If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him.”

I would take it a step further, though, and suggest that in order to become Buddha you must give up both the idea of Buddha and the idea of you. There is no “or” about it.  To surrender both is crucial. What’s more, you probably have to give up the idea of becoming a Buddha, too.

In my opinion, one of the critical first steps on the path is to rid ourselves of the notion that Buddha is someone or something outside of our own lives. The real Buddha is the inner one. We need to “kill” or give up our tendency to form attachments to external objects, and therefore, it is important that we not turn Buddha, awakened beings, or even awakening itself, into opportunities for grasping.

The concept of you is already a prime opportunity for grasping.  Buddhism teaches that the concept of “self” is the root of suffering. You, me, the ego, self-being – all are simply designations for something falsely imagined.

The you that you think you must promote and protect is not the real you, rather the real you is the Buddha within. It’s a bit more complicated, but that’s the gist of it.

And with this understanding, we begin to realize that so many of the Buddhist statements that we may shake our heads at and classify as just some sayings riddled with paradox, actually point to an objective reality that is highly paradoxical.

You must give up you to find the real you. That’s a logic that is sometimes hard to wrap our minds around, but we would do well to put some effort into it.

Dogen put it this way:

To study the Way is to study the Self. To study the Self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things of the universe. To be enlightened by all things of the universe is to cast off the body and mind of the self as well as those of others. Even the traces of enlightenment are wiped out, and life with traceless enlightenment goes on forever and ever.” *

When I read passages like the one above, I think to myself, “I know this so well.” Then I observe my own behavior and see how I have forgotten the principle so easily. I find that I must keep trying to improve – one thing I can’t afford to give up.

– – – – – – – – – –

* Hee-Jin Kim, Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist, Simon and Schuster, 2004, 125

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A Day with Three Mornings

New Years is a time when many people still make “resolutions,” even while most of them know that they will manage to keep only a few of them, if any at all. I’ve always liked what the English sculptor and artist, Henry Moore once said, “I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the years’.”

calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutions2And I also like the Tibetan word for “new year,” which is losar. Lo is “year, age”; sar “new, fresh”. So despite that a new year is just a turn of the page on the calendar, it can be a time for fresh beginnings. New is merely something not previously known, but fresh is not old or spoiled; fresh is pure and clean. We should strive to make this new calendar year a fresh year.

The Buddha asked his followers to consider this question, “What, when I do it, will lead to my long-term well-being and happiness?” If some behavior or way of thinking is not helping someone find well-being and happiness, then of course, it should changed.  The importance of having the ability to consciously direct and manifest change in our lives cannot be overstated.  Change is good, and in recognizing its great benefit, we can say that every day is a new year. Every day is a fresh start. Every day is a time for resolutions, a time to embrace change.

As far as New Years the holiday is concerned, most Buddhist countries celebrate the New Year according to the Chinese calendar. It coincides with Lunar New Year (last year January 31 and this year February 19). An exception is the Japanese Buddhist schools who tend to observe New Years on December 31. However, this is a relatively new tradition, only in place since 1873, when five years after the Meiji Restoration, Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar. Prior to that, Japanese Buddhists celebrated the Lunar New Year.

And that was certainly the case in the 13th century, when in the first day of 1241 at Kosho-horinji Temple in the Uji district of Yoshu, Eihei Dogen, the Tendai priest who had brought the teachings of the Chinese Caodong school (Soto Zen) to Japan, entered the assembly hall and gave the following talk, which along with 531 others has been preserved in Eihei Koroku (“Eihei or Dogen’s Extensive Record”) and translated by Taigen Dan Leighton & Shohaku Okumura.*

They have titled the talk “The Advantage of New Years” and explain that the phrase “Lost the advantage” means “that the speaker did not express the Dharma as fully as the monk in this dialogue, and was bettered by the monk.”

Today is the beginning of a new year [1241], and also a day with three mornings. I say three mornings because it is the beginning of the year, beginning of the month, and the beginning of the day.

dogen01Here is a story. A monk asked Jingqing Daofu, “Is there Buddha Dharma at the beginning of the new year or not?”

Jingqing said, “There is.”

The monk asked, “What is the Buddha Dharma at the beginning of the new year?”

Jingqing said, “New Year’s Day begins with a blessing, and the ten thousand things are completely new.”

The monk said, “Thank you, teacher, for your answer.”

Jingqing said, “This old monk today lost the advantage.”

A monk asked Mingjiao Zhimen Shikuan, “Is there Buddha Dharma

at the beginning of the new year, or not?”

Mingjiao said, “There is not.”

The monk said, “Every year is a good year, every day is a good day; why isn’t there [Buddha Dharma in the beginning of the new year]?”

Mingjiao said, “Old man Zhang drinks, and old man Li gets drunk.”

The monk said, “Great Elder, [you are like] a dragon’s head and snake’s tail.”

Mingjiao said, “This old monk today lost the advantage.”

The teacher Dogen said: [Both teachers] say the same, “This old monk today lost the advantage.”

Hearing such a story many people say, “These are good stories about [teachers] losing advantage [in a dialogue].” This mountain monk [Dogen] does not at all agree. Although Jingqing and Mingjiao speak of one loss, they do not yet see one gain. Suppose somebody were to ask me, Kosho, if there is Buddha Dharma at the beginning of the new year, or not.

I would say to them: There is.

Suppose the monk responded, “What is the Buddha Dharma at the beginning of the new year?”

This mountain monk would say to him: May each and every body, whether staying still or standing up, have ten thousand blessings.

Suppose the monk said, “In that case, in accordance with this saying, I will practice.”

This mountain monk would say to him: I, Kosho, today have advantage after advantage.

Now please practice.

– – – – – – – – – –

* from Dogen’s Extensive Record: A Translation of the Eihei Koroku, Eihei Dogen, translation by Taigen Dan Leighton & Shohaku Okumura, Wisdom Publications Inc,  2010

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Expecting Realization

As many of you know, Dogen was a 13th Century Japanese Buddhist, the founder of Soto Zen. I am not a Zen Buddhist, yet I am. Just like I am a Tibetan Buddhist, but then I’m not.  But you don’t have to Zen to be familiar with his Shobogenzo, “Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma”, a collection of ninety-five essays on the dharma. Lessen known, outside of the Zen tradition, is the Shinji Shobogenzo, essentially a collection of 300 koans. A koan can be a story, dialogue, question, or statement, they are often paradoxical, and often an object of meditation.

chinese-bamboo1dOne koan goes like this:

A student once asked the Zen master Tsui Wei, “What is the essence of Buddha-dharma.” They happened to be in the lecture hall where there were other monks around. Tsui Wei said, “I’ll tell you later on, when there is no one is around.”

In the afternoon, when the two were finally alone, Tsui Wei, “Now that we are by ourselves, I can tell you the essence of Buddha-dharma.” Tsui Wei took the student outside and pointed at the bamboo growing in the garden. “See?” said Tsui Wei. “Here is a tall bamboo. And over there, a short one.”

In his essay Yui Butsu Yo Butsu, “On ‘Each Buddha on His Own, Together with All Buddhas’,” Dogen wrote,

Buddha-dharma cannot be known by ordinary people. This is why since ancient times no ordinary person has realized Buddha-dharma . . . Because Buddha realized awakening all by himself, he said that each Buddha on his own, together with all Buddhas, has been able to fully realize It.

When you realize awakening, you do not think “This is awakening just as I expected.” Even if you think it is, awakening always differs from your expectation. Awakening is not like your conception of it. Therefore, you cannot realize awakening as you previously conceived. In Buddha-dharma you do not know how awakening has come as it has. This is something to reflect upon: What you think one way or another before your realization of awakening is not an aid to realization.

Now, I am sure you understand the story about the bamboo.

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Manifesting Buddha-nature

hui_neng
Click to enlarge

To the right is a poster I made based on a famous quote from a work attributed to Hui Neng (638-713) also known as The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch.

The idea that all beings could realize awakening, or become enlightened, originated with Indian Buddhism, but “Buddha-nature” seems to have its origins in China with the term fo xing: fo is buddha; xing may refer to dhatu or realm, although some scholars feel there is no Sanskrit equivalent for the word.

In Hui Neng’s view of Buddha-nature, the original state of all beings is one that is fundamentally pure, but delusions have obscured this nature so that we are not aware of its presence.  This is more or less consistent with the general Mahayana understanding.

But not all Buddhist schools accept the idea of Buddha-nature. A case in point is the Theravada tradition, who consider themselves the original school and therefore “true” Buddhism. A Theravada monk once told me he had difficulty with equating Buddha with ordinary people. In Theravada, Buddha is idealized to represent Perfection, and is seen as a supramundane being having omniscience and magical powers. Followers of Theravada deny they’ve elevated Buddha to a god-like status, but clearly their Buddha is not a ordinary person.

Personally, I have no use for that kind of Buddha. I am not interested in following beings who are perfect, who are saints, gods, divine messengers, etc. I can never become a Perfect Buddha, or God or Jesus. I’m certainly no saint. I know the historical Buddha did not walk around with his head wrapped in a halo as he is depicted in paintings, nor did he posses elongated ears, or possess magical powers. He was a common mortal, like me, like you.  That’s what makes the story of the Buddha so magnificent, because what he achieved, we can achieve as well.

Actually, the idea of Buddha-nature evolved in part from the rather complex teachings on the somewhat less than ordinary three bodies of the Buddha (Trikaya). I will save discussion on that topic for some other time.  The main thing to keep in mind that such teachings are metaphor and not to be taken literally.  The old Zen saying attributed to Lin Chi, “If you meet the Buddha on the path, kill him” seems apropos here.

In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki expressed it more politely while talking about the custom of bowing to statues of Buddha:

[When] you bow to Buddha you should have no idea of Buddha, you just become one with Buddha, you are already Buddha himself. When you become one with Buddha, one with everything that exists, you find the true meaning of being. When you forget all your dualistic ideas, everything becomes your teacher, and everything can be the object of worship.”

If we see Buddha as someone or something above us, then we are seeking enlightenment outside of ourselves.  We need to look inwardly, for that is where our Buddha-nature is sleeping.  Buddha is our guide and we rely on his teachings for sustenance on the path, but ultimately we have to “kill” the idea of Buddha as anything other than our own life, our own mind. We have to give it up.

Dogen, in his work Bussho (“Buddha Nature”) wrote,

What we have been calling ‘Buddha Nature’ is not to be equated with ‘the saintly’, nor, indeed, is it to be equated with Buddha Nature Itself.”

But in the same work he also said,

There is no Buddha Nature which is not Buddha Nature manifesting right here and now.”

I can’t think of any more positive teaching that this, that all beings without exception possess this nature, a state of mind that is always accessible, that we can manifest at any time.  Now, I don’t believe in enlightenment with a big E, you know, an earth-shattering, sudden illumination coming out of nowhere kind of thing, rather I believe we get glimpses of enlightenment, or perhaps like a flower unfolding to the sun slowly over the course of a morning, we awaken gradually, we blossom petal by petal . . . and so, moment by moment, day by day, we can awaken our Buddha. We can manifest more and more wisdom as time goes on, and even though we may not see instantaneous results before our eyes, that’s all right. I feel that real enlightenment happens subtly, in-perceptively . . .

But who knows, maybe there is a Big E, maybe there are those who experience Sudden Enlightenment . . . Not being enlightened, I’m not really sure . . . I just know that those who are enlightened don’t go around talking about it, but that is another subject . . .

For today, for me, it is quite enough to be content with the knowledge that “our very nature is Buddha and apart from that nature there is no other Buddha,” and equally as important, there is no other purpose of Buddhism than to enable all beings to realize their Buddha-nature.

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Beginner’s Mind

I have written about beginner’s mind before, and I hope long-time readers will excuse me if I delve into this subject again, but it is on my mind as I noticed that today is the anniversary of Shunryu Suzuki’s death in 1971.

Suzuki’s book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is a great Buddhist classic. Immediately accessible, rich, and cuts through the crap clearly and succinctly. I checked it out of the library a few years after it was published, bought a copy soon thereafter, lost it, bought another copy later on, and lost that one, too. It’s strange, because I don’t normally lose books. I have kept a few books longer than some of you reading this have been alive. In any case, ZMBM has meant a lot to me. I am not a Zen Buddhist and yet I have gleaned so much about the spirit of Buddhism from this collection of Suzuki’s dharma talks.

It was not until I got my third copy, sometime in the 1990’s, that I was really began to appreciate the spirit of beginner’s mind. In the prologue, Suzuki says, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” We live in a world where there are experts around every corner, but very few beginners.

Cover featuring Suzuki’s calligraphy of “shoshin.”

In Japan we have the phrase shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind.” The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind.”

Shoshin literally means “original intention; initial resolution.” The Chinese character shin, as some of you may know, means “mind.” It’s very easy to lose our beginner’s mind, to think we’ve got it made, that we know what’s what. But a person who has held on to his or her beginner’s mind, no matter how many years they’ve been practicing, is continually confronted with what they don’t know, frequently kicked out of their comfort zone. If Buddhism doesn’t challenge us, then we’re not doing it right.

Nikkyo Niwano (1906–1999) understood the spirit of beginner’s mind. He was one of the founders and first president of the Rissho Kosei Kai, a lay organization based on the Lotus Sutra. Niwano wrote in his autobiography that one day he was leaving the house to go to work when his three year old granddaughter said to him, “Grandfather, are you going to join the Kosei-kai again?” He replied, “Yes, I’m going to join again today.” He wrote that the exchange reminded him of “the importance of preserving, always, the freshness of the emotional impact I experienced when I first encountered the Lotus Sutra . . . I knew I would be busy again that day, but my heart was full of morning.”

Later he famously summed it up with these words: “I am beginning today. I am a lifetime beginner.”

The first person to use the expression “beginner’s mind” was Tanken ((711-782), a Tendai priest. Evidently, this soon became a popular term as it is well known within not only Zen Buddhism but also Japanese martial arts. Centuries later, Zen master Dogen, who began as a Tendai priest himself, was very impressed with the idea of beginner’s spirit. It’s said that shoshin was one of his favorite terms. In Bendowa, he wrote, “Because practice within realization occurs at the moment of practice, the practice of beginner’s mind is itself the entire original realization.”*

Beginner’s mind is a treasure of the mind, a jewel as precious as bodhicitta, the thought of awakening. The beginner’s mind is empty, open, forever learning and developing. All the truly great and authentic teachers I’ve had said the same thing, albeit with different words: always go back to the prime point, don’t forget to return to the fundamentals, never lose your seeking spirit, no matter how far you go just remember to start over at the beginning . . .

In the beginner’s mind there is no thought, “I have attained something.” All self-centered thoughts limit our vast mind. When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something. The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless.”

– Shunryu Suzuki

May your mind always be a beginner’s mind, and may your heart always be full of morning.

—————-

*Bendowa (Tanahashi 2004)

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