Butterflies Are Free

I remembered when I was a kid, I picked up a chrysalis and kept it in a jar until the butterfly started to come out.  So I broke open the cocoon to make it easier for the butterfly. When it finally came out, I noticed that it flew sort of feebly.  And then it died. Then I found out that it’s the struggle the butterfly makes trying to break through the cocoon that makes its wings strong.

Shepard Rifkin, Shepard, The Murderer Vine

The buddha nature that exists as wisdom-potential within our being is like a caterpillar.  When a caterpillar has completely grown, they form themselves into a pupa, also known as a chrysalis.  Within the chrysalis, the caterpillar undergoes an extraordinary transformation, called ‘metamorphosis.’  When metamorphosis is complete, a butterfly emerges, perhaps one with strong, beautiful wings.

Two elements are necessary for this process to be successful.  One is transformation.  The other is struggle.  In terms of Buddhism, a person who does not change cannot become a buddha.  A person who does not struggle, in the sense of making effort, cannot become a buddha.  Since we are talking about sentient beings and not insects, there is a third element that is crucial and that is the aspect of mind.

To ordinary persons, buddha potential, located within the mind, is obscured by illusion.  An ordinary person does not yet have the ability to see the true aspect of reality, much less his or her own enlightened nature.  However, a buddha sees through the veil of illusion and knows the world as it truly is.  And, a buddha recognizes that all living things are also buddhas, or potential buddhas.  A potential buddha must undergo some struggle and develop their their mind, in order to have strong wings and free themselves from illusion.

In the Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha states:

“This mind is luminous, shining brightly, but colored by our delusions.  Ordinary people do not understand this, and so they do not develop the mind.  This mind is luminous, shining brightly, and free from delusion.  Noble wayfarers understand this well, so for them there is development of the mind.”

Development means effort, work, struggle.  In a religion like Christianity, “works” or good deeds can never win salvation.  Only faith in God, only through loving God.  Potential buddhas do not need to call upon supernatural beings and deities.  If a wayfarer trusts the potential within the mind and expends effort to develop that potential, then we call that person a realized buddha.  This, to my thinking, is the most potent form of empowerment.  We call it jiriki or “inner power.”

“Your destiny is shaped according to the combination of conditions pre-determined at birth and other factors that you are able to change through your own efforts.”

–Ryuho Okawa, The Essence of Buddha


The End of Psychology

In its July 31 issue, the Onion reports this shocking development:

The field of psychology was brought to an immediate halt this week as disillusioned and weary practitioners of the discipline reportedly concluded that the mind could never possibly hope to study itself.”

lucydoctor3Finally, the head-shrink community has accepted what the great Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna revealed some 1700 years ago:

The mind does not know itself, cannot see itself.”

Indeed, if the mind cannot know mind, or even see it, how could it possibly study itself? There must be hundreds of thousands of folks in the psychology field worldwide in desperate need of therapy as a result of this revelation.

Nagarjuna said that because of our fundamental ignorance, we seize the fixed nature of the mind, and as a result, the mind we seize is false. However, through an understanding of emptiness, we can comprehend the real nature of mind.

According to Tenzin Gyatsu, the 14th Dalai Lama, through meditation we can get a glimpse of what the mind is. When we are able to enter into the timelessness of now, the present moment, with no thoughts about the past or anticipations for the future, when our mind is not swayed by hopes and fears, or even thoughts, and that when

[You] are able to isolate your mind from such object oriented activity and insure that there is no thinking about the past or anticipation of the future, by trying to remain in the present, then gradually you are able to sense an absence, an emptiness, and that through persistent practice of meditation, slowly, I feel that you can begin to realize, experientially, what is this consciousness, which is the mere nature of experience and knowing, a form of luminous phenomena.

If you approach in this manner, I feel that there is a tremendous scope for discovery. I feel that at a certain point you will get, through your own experience, a sense of what [mind] really is.”*

Actually, the mind is like an onion, only by peeling it many layers can we get to the core.

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* UCLA, June 5, 1997


Buddhism as Yoga

In the comments section of a recent post, I was asked if I thought yoga in its highest form is helpful in reaching a goal in Buddhism, and I replied by saying “Buddhism itself is really just a form of yoga.” That should not be a surprising statement if we remember there is more to yoga than the workout style focused on assuming challenging physical poses so popular today in the West.

Yoga has its origins in Vedic, perhaps even in pre-Vedic, philosophical thought. Yoga certainly embraces physical practice, but health and relaxation are auxiliary benefits. Let us consider this explanation of yoga, from Joseph Campbell in Myths To Live By:

The ultimate aim of yoga, then, can be only to enter that zone [“uninflected consciousness in its pristine, uncommitted state”] awake: which is to say, to “join” or to “yoke” (Sanskrit verbal root yuj, whence the noun yoga) one’s waking consciousness to its source in consciousness per se, not focused on any object or enclosed in any subject, whether of the waking world or of sleep, but sheer, unspecified and unbounded.”

These words could also sum up the ultimate aim of Buddhism.  The “zone” one enters is variously described as the state of emptiness fully realized, tathagatagarbha (“womb of the buddha”) or Buddha-nature, Original Mind, One Mind, No Mind, Original Nature, and so on. Some Buddhist schools have advanced the concept of an extremely deep layer of pure consciousness called the amala consciousness.

I’ve discussed the concepts of emptiness and original mind/nature at length, but only once, I think, have I delved into the subject of the 9 consciousnesses, and in this brief treatment today, I have used some passages from that previous post.

Consciousness (vijnana) refers to discerning, comprehending or judgment, and is one of the five components or aggregates (skandhas) that make up a human being. Early Buddhism defined six consciousness, functions which perceive objects as well as the subject who perceives them. The first five correspond to the ear, eye, nose, tongue, body and mind, and with sounds, tastes, scents, forms and textures. In short, the senses and everything the senses perceive. The 6th Consciousness (the mind or intellect) integrates the perceptions of the senses into coherent images.

The Indian Yogacara (“yoga practice”) school described two additional consciousnesses, the 7th or mano consciousness, which is independent from the senses in terms of its functions, yet bridges the conscious and sub-conscious realms of the mind and is where delusions concerning the false idea of a “self” originate; and the 8th or alaya (“abode’ or “receptacle”) consciousness, also known as the “storehouse consciousness,” where karma is deposited and carried over into future lifetimes.

While the idea of a 9th layer of mind, the amala consciousness, probably originated with Paramartha (499-569 CE), whose teachings formed the basis for Yogacara, the Chinese T’ien-t’ai and She-lun schools also adopted this concept. Amala means “stainless”, “pure”, or “undefiled.” This level of mind lies beyond the level of the storehouse consciousness and is free from any karmic influence. In the Fa hua hsuan i (“Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra”), T’ien-t’ai master Chih-i equates the amala consciousness with the aspect of “true nature.”* Paramartha also maintained that this level of consciousness “is identical with true nature (tattva or tathata).** So here would be the tathagatagarbha, the “womb of the buddha,” or the location of Buddha-nature within the mind.

Thus far, the notion of “pure consciousness” is still regulated to the realm of meditative or mystical experience, but it is worth mentioning that the alaya consciousness has some parallels with the psychological theories of Freud and Jung. In particular, the “storehouse consciousness” has been compared to Jung’s “collective unconscious.”

From all this, we can conclude that as the ultimate goals are the same, yoga is not a part of Buddhism, rather Buddhism is yoga, and perhaps that the simple act of meditation, which requires a specific sitting posture, may be the purest form of yoga physical therapy.

Yoga itself is based on the interaction of physical, spiritual, and psychic phenomena, in so far as the effects of breath-control (pranayama) and bodily postures (asana) are combined with mental concentration, creative imagination, spiritual awareness, and emotional equanimity.”

Lama Anagarika Govinda, The Way of the White Cloud

Now as soon as we say Buddhism is one thing, we also need to point out that Buddhism is many things. It is yoga, and it is a discipline, a practice, a philosophy, a form of spiritual psychology, a religion, a way of life, a view of reality that is without delusion, seeing reality as it truly is, and a way to regard the past without regret, abide in the present with calmness of mind, and face the future with hope – Buddhism embraces all these things and then goes beyond them.

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* Swanson, Paul. “T’ien-t’ai Chih-i’s Concept of Threefold Buddha Nature – A Synergy of Reality, Wisdom, and Practice.” Buddha Nature: A Festschrift in Honor of Minoru Kiyota. Ed. Paul J. Griffiths and John P. Keenan. Buddhist Books International. 171-180

** Bibhuti Baruah, Buddhist Sects and Sectarianism, Sarup & Sons, 2000, 186


You Don’t Have to Know Your Limitations

Even if you’ve never seen one of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry movies, you are probably familiar with the line, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” I may or may not have seen the film that contains this line, I don’t recall (not a big Dirty Harry fan), so I can’t say in exactly what context the remark is made, other than I know he’s pointing a gun at someone. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t say this sentiment is always true.

In the Pali text, Majjhima Nikaya 62, the Buddha says to his son, Rahula,

“Develop a mind similar to space, then things of like and dislike will not take hold of your mind, nor will they remain . . . Rahula, abide in a mind like space.”

In Buddhism, the mind is often compared to space or to the sky. On one hand, the mind is a source of suffering, since negative thoughts and resulting speech and actions are causes of suffering. On the other hand, mind is a source of happiness, and is viewed as having unlimited potential. It is said to be as vast as sky or space.

T’ien-t’ai master Chih-i developed a concept he called i-nien san-ch’ien (Jp. ichinen sanzen) or “three thousand worlds in a single thought,” a way of expressing the notion that the mind is a microcosm of the universe. It is also limitless, permeating the entire universe. There is a theoretical way to understand this, and a practical way.

The practical implication of space-like mind is that we need not be restrained by self-imposed limitations; rather we should make a real effort to be rid of our limitations. We limit ourselves in many ways. As the passage above suggests, likes and dislike take hold of our mind. Our prejudices and preferences keep us in a specific mind-set, a comfort zone of the mind, and once we are settled in, it’s difficult to climb out. When we are reluctant, even afraid, to consider new ideas, new challenges, and so forth, we become prisoners in our own mind. Life is extremely limited behind bars.

Self-doubt is another way we limit ourselves. Self-doubt sends limiting messages to the mind. It also inhibits our ability to think freely, it inhibits our actions, causes depression, worry, dissatisfaction, leaving us feeling unfulfilled. Extreme self-doubt is obviously unhealthy.

There are times where reason and restraint are called for, when being realistic about our abilities will prevent us from making unwise decisions. So, perhaps it’s a good idea after all that we recognize some limitations, but we don’t need to be unnecessarily constrained by them. Our potential may not be literally unlimited, but it’s safe to say that it is far greater than we imagine.

Wayfarers on the Buddha path seeking to transcend sufferings and find happiness in this life should also be earnestly striving to transcend the limitations of the mind. Rebelling against self-shackling narrow mind and self-doubt is absolutely key to developing the boundless life we deserve.

“The capacity of the mind is as vast like space. It is limitless, neither round nor square, neither great nor small, neither blue, yellow, red or white. It is not above or below, or long or short. It is without anger and without joy, without like and dislike, without good or evil, and without beginning or end. The fields of the Buddha are identical to space.”

– The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch


A Mind Invincible

As I mentioned the other day that I’ve been having problems with my medical team. I fell through the cracks for several months, and they failed to follow through and schedule a procedure to slice off one of my tumors, surgery they had me convinced I needed in order to buy time for the transplant.

When I was finally able to awake them from their slumber a couple of weeks ago, everyone assumed that during this long period the tumor had grown. None of the options presented to me looked promising. It appeared that any chance of getting a transplant was bleak.

The surgeon called me Wednesday with the result of Monday’s CT scan. I don’t need the resection. The tumor has not grown at all. In an ironic twist of fate, their lack of diligence saved me from undergoing unnecessary, and very risky, surgery. Naturally, this does not excuse their error, but I am very grateful I don’t have to face the resection. My condition is not wonderful but it is not as bad as everyone imagined.

None of this is easy on the mind. For the last couple of weeks I really thought it was possible I had no hope, that I was a dead man walking. If there was ever a time in my life where I felt close to being despondent, this was it. However, as I wrote some time back, I will resist letting this cancer completely control my life, even when faced with the prospect that there might not be much of it left. The same goes for the mental turmoil, and so, like two fighters in a ring, despondency and I slugged it out.

Despondency is no less deadly than cancer. Described as a state of low spirits caused by loss of hope or courage, despondency can lead to chronic depression, suicide (the 10th leading cause of death in the United States) – it can lead to murder. I wouldn’t say my depression was major, nor was I suicidal or murderous, but at times it was a real challenge to keep my spirits up.

Shantideva called despondency an evil, a major obstacle on the path. Many Mahayana texts warn against its power, and its futility.

The Dharma Mirror Sutra says,

If there is a remedy, what is the use of despondency? If there is no remedy, what is the use of despondency? Even in the remedy, one might fail if despondent and dazed by anger. From despair, one’s power goes, and one is caught in a worse trouble; by thinking of this in vain, they pass a short life again and again. Therefore by practice one should renounce that useless thing like something worthless.”

The text states that the rejection of despondency should be practiced “by casting away weakness and softness of mind . . . one’s mind is free from the likeness of cotton-wool.”

columnsThe remedy for despondency is to develop a strong mind. The Buddha taught that there are five strengths, or healing powers of the mind: conviction, persistence, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom.

Conviction is traditionally thought of as the faith that conquers doubt. I see it as being confident about your Buddha nature.

Persistence is never giving up.

Mindfulness means to have a mind unshaken.

Concentration is never losing sight of the essential point.

Wisdom is knowing the essential point.

Which is? I don’t know what the essential point is for you, but for me is the same as Dogen’s ‘fundamental point’: “the mind itself is Buddha”.  My understanding of that may differ from his, however. I see the mind is Buddha as bringing these five powers of mind together as one, and they are not powers at all but actually different aspects of one potentiality within the mind – the potential to become a Buddha, and all a Buddha means is someone who awakens to suffering and then has the strength of mind to rise above it. The Gandavyuha Sutra says,

“You should cultivate a mind unconquerable . . .  a mind invincible . . .  a mind not shaken in the abyss and the currents of the ocean of evil temperaments.”

Of course, I don’t mean to intimate that I have that kind of mind, but having been at this Buddhism business for more than a few years now, I can say my mind is stronger than it once was. It is not often shaken, but frequently stirred.

By the way, genjo, from Dogen’s Genjo Koan, or “Actualizing the Fundamental Point”, is made up of two Chinese characters: xian, now or present, and cheng, complete or accomplish. A Buddha is also someone who can accomplish the now, be complete in the present.

This week, actress Valerie Harper announced she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and had perhaps only 3 more months to live. She said, “I don’t think of dying, I think of being here now.”

Be here now. Someone else said that, too. Ram Dass, I think. Good advice.

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